Rookie Mendham Carries On Baseball Legacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

In local circles, the Mendham name is baseball royalty. Today, the family tradition continues with Brantford Red Sox catcher-third baseman David Mendham, one of this season’s top Intercounty Baseball League rookies.

Dave Mendham, grandfather of Brantford Red Sox rookie David Mendham. Photo: Mendham Family.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Mendham twins, Dave and Dan, launched the legend. Dan – nicknamed “Buck” – played for the London Majors in the late-1950s and early-1960s, and for many years was the club’s first base coach. Later, Dave’s sons, Dan and Pete, played for the Majors. Pete was a workhorse right-handed pitcher who threw a heavy fastball. Dan was an IBL all-star, one of the league’s most disciplined hitters and one of the best to ever patrol the hot corner for the Majors. I include him on my list of all-time best Majors – read it here.

Now Dan’s son, David, is turning heads in the IBL. He turns 19 in July, but he’s already making his mark with the Red Sox who he leads after 15 games with 18 hits and a .346 batting average (fourth in the IBL); sits second on the Sox with nine runs scored, two home runs and eight RBIs; and is tied for the team lead with three doubles.

David Mendham. Photo: Crystal Young.

Listed as 6’3” and 205 lbs, the lefty-batting third baseman with stints behind the dish is a graduate of Catholic Central High. He’s a product of the AAA Expos and Ontario Nationals elite junior programs, and even played alongside his dad with the senior men’s Lakeside Lizards squad. This past spring he visited Florida with the Ontario Blue Jays program.

This fall, David will suit up with the Connors State Cowboys in Warner, Oklahoma, a Division I junior college program who has given him a full baseball-academic scholarship.

Baseball In Mendham Blood

Without a doubt, baseball is in the blood of the Mendham family. Dave, who died in 1994, lived and breathed baseball. So did his twin brother, who died in 2009. In fact, it’s still difficult to think about local baseball and the London Majors without thinking of “Buck” Mendham, who died at age 73. He played mostly at third base for Majors from 1957 to 1964, and later coached first base with the club. His nickname was extended to “Uncle Buck” when he coached the late-1990s Majors which included his nephews, Dan and Pete.

One of the highlights of my 33-year baseball career was having the opportunity to coach with “Buck” during the 2000 and ’01 Majors seasons. A life-long athlete, Buck enjoyed a second career with the Majors, which he rejoined as a coach in 1994. Ironically, he played at all positions except first base, where he would eventually make his mark as a Labatt Park fixture during Majors contests.

Buck was an Intercounty second team all-star third baseman in 1958, and listed his playing career highlight as “hitting a grand slam off pitcher John Ambrose.” His coaching highlight was “watching my nephews play for the Majors.”

The 1958 London Majors included (top left, far left) Dan “Buck” Mendham, and (top left, third from left) Dave Mendham. Photo: London Majors.

The 1996 Majors yearbook stated, “Until recently, Dan held the Intercounty record for being hit by a pitch, which is in full character with the toughness he brought to the playing field. He’s a quiet man (umpires have a different opinion) who brings a calming element to the game.”

Indeed, “Buck” enjoyed the chatter he aimed at many Intercounty umpires, and he was at his best when reminiscing about Intercounty legends, many of whom he defined as “super, super ballplayers.” That was a “Buck” trademark. He was a true sportsman, as was his brother, Dave, who died at age 58 while jogging out to right field with “Buck” during a slo-pitch game with the Benny and the Jets senior squad. “Buck” played a ton of softball with the Dorchester Canadians, in London with the Huff n’ Puff group, as well as in Florida where he spent many winters. He was a member of numerous over-60 tournament-winning teams, and was a member of a London softball team at the 2008 Ontario Summer Games.

A 20-year employee with Brinks, Buck also had a passion for horses, owning 50 of them between 1965 and 1985. He would arrive at the Western Fairgrounds at 5 a.m. before heading to work. “I spent all my time at Western Fair training and racing horses. I probably broke even on it. It was a hobby,” he said in a 1998 interview.

RHP Pete Mendham (far left) was one of the Four Horseman, a great pitching staff in the late-1990s who included (L-R) Mendham, Kevin Thomas, Derek Masse and Kirk Martin. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

Younger Dan, a former scout with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau and still active coaching junior baseball, was a hard-nosed player at the hot corner with a keen batting eye – both traits seeing him gain a spot amongst the all-time Majors squad. His IBL career 1991-2007 included a nine-year stint with the Majors 1992-2000 when he led the club in home runs and RBIs for three straight years 1996-98. He seamlessly made the transition from aluminum to wooden bats in 1995, and finished with a lifetime batting average of .306, plus was a three-time all-star. He finished his career with Brantford, and then the now-defunct Stratford Nationals.

A special education teacher with Thames Valley District School Board who retired from senior men’s baseball in 2016 with the Lakeside Lizards, Dan also handles sales for Dorchester-based Baseline Bats, which manufactures custom-made professional hardwood bats.

Dan Mendham taking infield at Labatt Park in 1998. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

“(In 2007, David) wanted a wood bat for his birthday,” Dan explained. “I looked all over London for a wood bat – could find metal, but no wood. Not even a bad one. I bought a maple bat in Port Huron, and David showed it to his grandfather (Bob Slater), a retired tool and die guy.” And thus was born Baseline Bats.

In 2011, Dan was instrumental in creating the AAA Expos, an elite youth baseball program which provides an advanced baseball development environment for young athletes who are serious about improving their skills, and working towards becoming drafted at the Major League Baseball level, or receiving a college scholarship.

David’s Turn

David Mendham. Photo: Crystal Young.

Now, it’s David’s turn to shine on the diamond and carry on the Mendham name.

“Baseball certainly is a family thing with us,” Dan said. “In fact, it’s been a family thing for a very long time. It’s now a generational thing. And we have some younger family members getting into ball now, too. It’s funny how life plays out like that, but it keeps rolling along.

“David always liked sports – played hockey as well as baseball. He would come to the ballpark with me as a kid, and like most fathers and sons we played catch. I hit him ground balls, helped him with his swing, tried to get him to learn to hit the ball where it is pitched. He has stuck with it, worked hard and is now bigger and stronger, and it has paid off. I’m very proud,” Dan said.

So, too, is Brantford’s rookie manager and former Majors catcher Wayne Forman, a member of the Red Sox IBL dynasty with championships in 2006, and from 2008 to 2013. Like Dan, he’s a teacher, working in Hamilton, and was also a hard-nosed ballplayer with a sharp batting eye.

Dan Mendham at the end of the aluminum bat era at Labatt Park. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

“There are some great coaches in Brantford, and Wayne is a terrific mentor for David,” Dan said. “It’s a great spot for him to play in, and he is getting a great opportunity to develop as a ballplayer. Wayne is one of the best catchers in IBL history.”

Wayne Forman. Photo: Facebook.

In fact, it says here Forman – whom I coached in London in 2000 – should have been included amongst the IBL’s Top 100 Players list, released in conjunction with the league’s 100th Season this year.

“I am really enjoying playing for Wayne and the Red Sox,” David said. “My manager was one of the best to play in this league, and a good mentor for me.”

“David is hitting in the three hole for us, which is our best hitter,” Forman said. “I remember about seven years ago watching him hit at Adam Stern’s baseball school, and I was impressed. I gave his dad a set of catcher’s gear for him to use.

“The ball sounds different coming off of David’s bat – just like his dad,” Forman said. “His pitch selection is incredible, and his discipline at the plate is incredible. If he has an off at-bat – I don’t want to say bad at-bat – then he remembers it and uses that information the next time he comes to the plate. He’ll even adjust during that at-bat.”

Forman said David is already a team leader, too. And he said when he does take a turn behind the dish, he “doesn’t look out of place, that’s for sure.”

With David off to college later this summer, Forman said that will leave “a big hole in our lineup. But we’re already looking at how to fly him back to Brantford during the playoffs. He is a great asset to our organization.”

“It’s cool,” said David of following in the footsteps of so many family members before him. “My dad really helped me with my hitting. And playing in the IBL is a great opportunity to see great pitching. It’s a tough league and that will make me a better player.”

Like the Toronto Blue Jays’ Russell Martin, David said he enjoys playing 3B and catching, and sees himself doing both with the Connors State Cowboys.

American writer Donald Hall wrote, “Baseball is continuous like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all the fathers and all the sons.”

The same can be said of Canadians, who put down their hockey sticks and link generations with a simple game of catch.

I’m sure if you asked the Mendhams if they had ever gripped a baseball, they would tell you that it has always been the other way around: baseball has had a grip on them for three generations.

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A long-time member of the London sports media and a seven-time writing award winner, Jeffrey Reed coached third base and was a right-handed relief pitcher for the London Majors in 2000 and 2001. In 1994, in conjunction with the return of wooden bats to the Intercounty Baseball League, Reed formed and operated the IBL media relations office. He has just written his third book, chronicling the history of the Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association. Contact him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

One Response to “Rookie Mendham Carries On Baseball Legacy”

  1. Mike Los says:

    Jeffrey:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on the next generation of baseball in the Mendham family and Wayne Forman. I’m still scratching my head over why he wasn’t included on the IBL’s top 100 players list?

    Sincerely,

    Mike Los