Mendoza spirit lives on in softball tournament
     2012-08-03      By Doug Harris    dougharris@geringcitizen.com
Courtesy Photo - James Mendoza 
For three years running the family of James Mendoza has joined with the Carpenter Center to host an annual softball tournament in honor of James’ all too short life and memory.

This year the 3rd Annual James Mendoza Memorial Co-Ed Softball Tournament will be held on Aug. 10-12 at the Carpenter Center baseball field in Terrytown. Teams of five men and five women are invited to sign up with all proceeds from the tournament going to Carpenter Center youth programs.

“Last year we had 12 teams and we have 12 signed up again for the 2012 tourney,” said James’ mother, Mary Ann Mendoza. “It is a softball tournament but also a chance to reunite with friends and to celebrate James’ life. We have music playing at the Center and also hold a dance on Saturday night. Family and friends of James will be performing at the Elks Club. We all get together and we keep the memory of James alive. My sister Rose used to work at the Carpenter Center and we started all this with the help of Sam Serda who is the director there.”

Rose Richter, Mary Ann’s sister and James’ aunt added, “We have many local players but some of the players come from Colorado, North Platte and up from Kearney. Many of them were James’ friends and former co-workers at Panhandle Concrete.”
Mendoza said a plaque and T-shirts are awarded to the winning team in the tourney. “The second place team also gets a plaque,” she said. “The plaques are donated from Panhandle Concrete. Many people in Scottsbluff and Gering have supported us with this memorial.”

In late summer of 2009 James Mendoza, who had recently turned 20 years-old, was involved in an altercation at the Walmart parking lot with another young man named Artie Lowery. After James left the parking lot in his truck, Lowery with two female passengers followed him in a car. “James went to Walmart to get a relish tray for his girlfriend Sara,” Mendoza said. “We still don’t really know the whole story. But when James was going out of the store Artie Lowery called him on. They fought at Walmart but then James left. They followed him and cut him off near the skate park east of Walmart, near Avenue D in Scottsbluff. Lowery then stabbed James multiple times. They fled in their car but went down a dead-end street. James was able to run into their vehicle with his truck. Thank goodness he did that or they wouldn’t have caught them.”

“Three were arrested,” said Richter. “And another one was later arrested for hiding the knife. “Artie” or William Lowery was the one who stabbed James. His wife, Roslyn Lowery was in the car when they followed James. There was also a younger girl with them. She wasn’t charged with anything.”

“After he stabbed my son, Artie went with the girls on foot to his brother’s house,” Mendoza said. “His name is Joseph Lowery. He was the one who helped to hide the knife. The girls helped Artie to clean up and they cut his hair. I’m so grateful that James hit their car. The car ended up near an alley and they had to leave it there. It helped the police find out who they were.”

William “Artie” Lowery confessed to the killing when he entered into a plea bargain on the charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is currently serving time in Lincoln. If good time is earned he may serve as little as 10 years.

“A man who lived nearby heard the truck hit the car,” Mendoza continued. “This man, Jessie Gossman, was the first to find James. He kept him alive until the ambulance arrived. James didn’t know Jessie. None of us did. He called me at the time and I just figured there had been a car accident but Jessie said James was stabbed.”

With Rose at her side Mary Ann continued to recount the last moments of her young son’s life. “James passed away at Regional West Medical Center at 11:16 p.m.” she said through her tears. “We rushed up to the hospital but they didn’t let us see him. They needed to have positive identification and James didn’t have his wallet with him. I wish I would have been able to see him. To tell him I loved him and was there for him. It gets harder around this time of year as it feels closer. It has only been three years. It is still very hard.”

“We hold the tournament in August because James’ birthday is August 14,” Richter added.

“James was born in Scottsbluff,” Mendoza said. “I was playing softball when I was pregnant. I was sliding into bases and everything. He told me ‘That’s why I love baseball so much.’ He attended school at Roosevelt and then to Gering at Northfield. He went through Gering Junior and Senior High and graduated in 2008. He had barely turned 20 before this happened.”

In addition to being an active high school athlete playing for the Gering Bulldogs in several sports, James was also a member of the Gering American Legion baseball team and played for the Valley Bank Bruins. By all accounts he was a great ballplayer.

“The first tournament to honor his memory was really nice,” Richter said. “The first one was really good. We were surprised to get 12 teams and things have been going well ever since. James loved baseball so much it seems like the best way to celebrate his life and honor his memory.”

They noted the tournament isn’t just about playing softball but a way to share their grief with others and to help support the Carpenter Center. “We have concessions, T-shirts, music,” Mendoza said. “It is a nice event.”

The sisters said James was introduced to baseball by his Uncle Curt Holmquist. “My brother-in-law Curt would take James up to Chadron to participate in the youth league,” Mendoza said. “James played all his life.”

“All we had in our family were baseball players,” Richter said. “Our dad, Frank Mendoza Sr. played, so did our brother Albert Mendoza, our nephews Chris Mendoza and Alec Holmquist. We are a baseball family. All the girls played softball too.”
“James was a pitcher,” his mother added. “He played all positions but pitched a lot.”
“It was his dream to become a pro,” Richter said. “That’s why we want to keep his memory going on like this. We hope every year there are more teams. People can still get involved and sign up. There are rosters at the Carpenter Center, with an Aug. 5 deadline. We hope to keep doing this at the Carpenter Center. Sam Serda has always helped us out. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have been able to start this.

“Sam is a wonderful man,” Mendoza added. “We knew him from our childhood. We all grew up in Bayard. The baseball field at the center is a perfect setting to do this.”
The sisters acknowledged a similar bittersweet tournament is held in the Valley every summer. The Jason Vesper Memorial Classic golf tournament will be held Aug. 4. “My heart goes out to his family,” Mendoza said, referring to the unsolved 2008 murder of Jason Vesper. In a sad coincidence Vesper also died of stab wounds. “I know his wife and just hugged her the other day. I wish they could solve that and give them some peace. I’m so glad James hit that vehicle so the police could find out who was involved or we might have been another Vesper case.”

“We want to thank all the teams for participating,” Richter said. “Many players just play and leave and we don’t get a chance to thank them. We could not keep this going without them; this keeps the memory of James.”

“We all have a good time,” Mendoza said. “It brings our family closer together. It is like a reunion to get together every year. We see his classmates, former teammates, co-workers, and his friends get together and play. They enjoy it too. It is a difficult time as well. But it is healing for us.

“I also want to thank the late Bob Datel and his family. They stood by us at all the court hearings. Bob was a big part of all this. He claimed James as his grandson and always loved him. Bob was Sara’s grandfather. Sara was James girlfriend at the time he was killed. She made him so happy. Her family has always been so supportive. It is still hard but we are thankful for everyone who has stood by us through all of this. At the dance we laugh, we cry, we know that James is looking down on us. He is playing baseball in our hearts.”

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