Mo Mercado slipped into post-shortstop life fairly easily — at least from the outside looking in.
After hanging up her cleats with the completion of the 2017 season, she moved into a graduate assistant role for the Arizona softball program. Completing her graduate studies in May, Mercado is now on the lookout for a collegiate coaching position.
“Mo has a great passion for the game — I’ve never seen a person who loves the game as much as Mo,” UA coach Mike Candrea said. “I think she’s going to be an outstanding coach. Mo was one player who played hard with a lot of thought and preparation. It’s a seamless move into coaching.”
It’s not to say that Mercado wasn’t pushed out of her comfort zone the past few seasons. Candrea has seen to that. She coached in the box at first base, sent in pitches, hit ground balls to infielders, worked with batters and ran drills, among other things.
While all of these duties were new and odd at first, one thing remained the same — Mercado was still being coached by Candrea.
“Coaches coach — he still finds ways to push me out of my comfort zone and pick my brain and make me think on a deeper level,” Mercado said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from learning the coaching side is there is so much more that goes into the game than you think.
“As a player, everything’s about fundamentals, practice and coach making the lineup and it’s very tunnel-visioned. Being on this side now I see just watching him observe players in a different way. And he’s taught me a ton.
“Just little things. I mean, I’ve grown mentally, I’ve grown physically. I’ve have grown just still asking him questions on a day-to-day basis. In any way you can think of it he’s pushed me my comfort zone in some way.”
For Mercado, shortstop is “what I live and die by,” and feeling comfortable outside the white lines — in the first base coaches’ box — took a little while.
“This is home (Rita Hillenbrand Stadium) — I played on the field for four years. Being on this side, I felt a little uncomfortable,” Mercado said. “I would say you got to figure it out.
“You got to get a couple games under your belt to see how you move in groove in this different role, right? …I began to really like it because from this different perspective, I was seeing things differently, being able to relay information differently. But definitely, it was uncomfortable at first, but now I love it. But three years later, you would assume you figured out your groove.”
As a player, Mercado was already mentoring and helping her teammates. One of those teammates, current UA shortstop Jessie Harper, spent many hours with Mercado talking and learning more about the game.
And who better to learn the ins and outs of playing on the home field than Mercado?
She was an All-American; first team All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-defense for two consecutive years; notched 427 assists for seventh place in UA history; and was a four-time NFCA all-region performer.
“I remember her as a fierce competitor. Her energy fired up everyone around her and brought everyone up around her,” said Harper.
“She’s been a huge influence on how comfortable I was coming in freshman year and how I am playing now. We’re both similar — very hard workers. Mo and I think the same way — we’re on the same wavelength.
“She’s helped me be smoother with my hands and attacking balls on the right hops — just certain mechanics. I’ve learned from her to commit 100% — to commit big. If you make an error, it should be big. It’s always commit big and be you. I do that…for sure, I do.”
Mercado also raked: She led the team as a senior with a .396 batting average and in doubles with 16 while earning National and Pac-12 player of the week honors for going 11 for 13 with three doubles, a home run, 11 RBIs and scored six runs at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
Candrea said that Mercado has all the right ingredients for coaching.
“First, it’s her database. She’s played the game and has been there and relates to the players as another player,” he said.
“That’s a valuable piece. She has a good approach. She’s not a screamer. She’s demanding but caring. She has a great demeanor working with young kids. That’s a big part of it. …the girls were lucky to have her around.
“I could talk on and on about Mo, she’s been a very valuable part of Arizona softball. I loved everything she’s done. She’s got a great future ahead of her.”
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