WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 4 (UPI) -- Rob Mendez, recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2019 ESPY Awards, gave the controversial Houston Astros a motivational speech at spring training Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Mendez, 31, was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder that left him without arms or legs. He developed a passion for football while playing video games before becoming head coach for a California high school junior varsity football team.
Mendez has made a career of inspiring others, recently doing so at the 2019 ESPY Awards. He brought the crowd at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to a standing ovation for his speech when he received the award, which is given annually to a member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.
His lessons are simple: dedication, passion and focusing on what you can do instead of what you can't do. Mendez said speaking with the Astros was nerve-racking at first. By the end of the speech, Astros players were challenging him to video game battles.
"I wanted to get across that you should play with your heart and passion and truly appreciate yourself," Mendez said of his speech Wednesday. "Don't take it for granted."
Mendez was a guest of Astros manager Dusty Baker. He looked up to Baker while growing up in the Bay Area, when Baker was manager of the San Francisco Giants. Mendez called Baker an "icon" and said he became an Astros fan when Baker was hired in January.
On Wednesday, it was Baker watching Mendez as he autographed baseballs. The veteran manager smiled when referring to Mendez's newly found fame before signing a ball for Mendez and taking photos with him.
A lot to prove
Baker takes over one of the most talented teams in baseball in 2020. The Astros remain World Series contenders despite the firing of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
The duo lost their jobs after being suspended by Major League Baseball for their roles in an illegal sign-stealing scheme. Astros players were not disciplined for their roles in the scheme, but fans of other teams have voiced their displeasure toward Astros players during spring training by heckling them during at-bats.
"They have a lot to prove this year," Mendez said. "Obviously, they are in a unique situation, but it's going to be a good platform for them to really prove themselves this year. I truly believe in them. I think they are going to go all the way [to the World Series] again this year."
Seeing Mendez made Astros outfielder Josh Reddick think of his father. Kenny Reddick lost half of his left arm and two fingers after being electrocuted in 1988.
"It's a very inspirational story to witness. ... It's really touching to be able to see somebody doing what he has done," Reddick said of Mendez. "He was very humble about what he has done. He was very excited about being in a big-league clubhouse. He is such a well-known person in this world, but he can still be excited about being in our clubhouse.
"We were very happy to have to him. It was an honor to talk to him."