This is part three of a seven part series.
Mercedes Garcia was sitting in her apartment in Tucson when she got a phone call. The voice on the other end was telling her that he needed a first baseman and that Mercedes would be perfect for the part. He had always seen her name when he would scan statistics from other programs throughout the country but he never watched her play in person. The voice on the other end was Kevin Blaskowski.
Mercedes smiles when she recalls Kevin’s accent when he spoke. He told Mercedes that he would like to set up an interview and a visit to WT. Marchelle was excited. She immediately did her research on West Texas A&M and she was really fond of it. Marchelle wanted her daughter to move on to the next level of softball without even giving Mercedes a chance to object.
Mercedes and Marchelle decided to visit WT in the summer of 2011. Marchelle took pictures of everything: the locker room, the field and her hitting practice. Mom did all the talking; Mercedes was just nervous about the visit. Mercedes didn’t think she hit very well when they visited, but it didn’t matter, because Marchelle fell in love with WT from the get-go.
During the visit, Marchelle revealed to Kevin that she was fighting Stage IV melanoma. Marchelle told him that if Mercedes didn’t smile, then there was something wrong with her.
“She wanted her daughter to be somewhere where she could be successful,” Kevin said.
Following the visit, Mercedes returned to Tucson where she had a decision to make. It took a couple of days for her to decide. On one hand, she really did like WT but on the other, if she left Tucson, she’d be leaving Marchelle behind, ten hours from home.
“If I came here, what if something went wrong,” Mercedes said. “She had talked to me and said, ‘I know if you don’t go to school, it’s because of me and I don’t want to be the reason for it.’”
So Mercedes called Kevin and committed to play for the Lady Buffs. Marchelle was a little upset with Mercedes when she called him because she wasn’t present when Mercedes made the call; Marchelle wanted to hear it for herself.
During the drive from Tucson to WT, Mercedes had butterflies in her stomach and mixed emotions about her choice. She was excited to go to school, to start a different chapter in her life, but she was afraid of leaving her mom behind.
“I remember the first few days, it was very hard,” Mercedes said. “I kept telling her, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know if this is the right decision.’ She kept telling me that it was.”
After a few days in Canyon, Marchelle had to go back to Arizona and leave Mercedes in her new home. When they got to the airport, Marchelle started tearing up as she was saying goodbye. She told Mercedes that she was proud of her. When her mother left, the tears started to flow for Mercedes. She was “terrified” that something wrong would happen and she couldn’t do anything about it. Marchelle sent a text message to Mercedes telling her that Marchelle had left a card for her daughter in the center console of her car.
“It just said, ‘I’m proud of you, stick through it, you’re not a quitter,’” recalled Mercedes. “‘I’m gonna miss you. You have the heart of an angel. I’ll be back soon.’”
When Marchelle left, Mercedes had to adjust to her new home. Here she was, a girl from Tucson, which, according to the 2010 census, has a population of over 520,000. Now she was living in Canyon, Texas, population 13,303. It took her about a semester to adjust to the pace and the idea of small town life.
Still, Mercedes was at West Texas A&M to get an education and to play softball. When the fall workouts came around, Mercedes was very nervous the first time she walked into the clubhouse at Lady Buff Yard. ,
“She was really quiet when I first met her, and to herself,” said teammate Meghan Slattery. Slattery, a senior psychology major, plays left field for the Lady Buffs and is the NCAA Division II record-holder for grand slams in a career. “She wasn’t extremely outgoing or anything like that. You kind of had to approach her to get to know her. The more I got to know her, the more I liked her. She would just, drop funny comments every now and then. She’s extremely sarcastic.”
In September 2011, Mercedes was leaning on the dugout rail when a teammate noticed the tattoo she has on her left wrist. The teammate questioned her about the tattoo mainly because from afar, it resembled a teal cancer ribbon. It wasn’t teal but Mercedes explained that it was a tattoo for her grandmother who had passed away from cancer. Her teammate was very interested in this story and she started to tell her about how her mom fought cancer. This struck instantly with Mercedes; she had made an instant connection to the woman.
The young woman’s name was Alyssa Lemos.
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