For most 25-year-olds, having the chance to fulfill your childhood dream would provide more than enough satisfaction. But Evan Mendoza has never been someone who focuses on just one thing.
Selected by the Cardinals in the 11th round of the 2017 Draft, the North Carolina State product has turned another passion into a burgeoning business. His growing enterprise is tapping into a massive financial global phenomenon in the digital arena: NFTs.
For Mendoza's newly built Diamond Dawgs NFT collection, he has been sticking with the two things he knows best: art and baseball.
"I just think it's an incredibly cool way to allow fans to interact with their favorite athlete," the Florida native said. "Among many reasons, I'm establishing and pioneering Diamond Dawgs as a way fans can feel connected to a professional athlete while doing something they love."
To know and understand what Mendoza has undertaken is to embrace the NFT concept.
For the uninitiated, a non-fungible token (NFT), per Forbes, is "a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos." They are bought and sold online, often using cryptocurrency, which has produced a staggering $174 million worth of spending since November 2017.
What separates an NFT from other collectibles -- such as the old-fashioned baseball card -- is its uniqueness. Generally speaking, each NFT is one of a kind with distinctive codes. The Diamond Dawgs is a collection of just over 7,000 hand-drawn generative baseball characters done by none other than Mendoza himself.
Each token has its own characteristic -- no two are alike -- based off teammates, teams and cities Mendoza has experienced, from Little League up to professional baseball.
"I've been pretty artistic my entire life," said Mendoza, who minored in graphic communications at North Carolina State. "I started creating and drawing during [last] Spring Training as a way to relax myself. It was basically a therapy to take my mind off baseball after the grind of the day.
"Since then and in my spare time, I've compiled nearly 200 individual traits that my developer could then code into a random Diamond Dawg. I'm talking about sunglasses, eye black, batting gloves, facial expressions ... you name it. They're then coded and you have a Diamond Dawg NFT that is entirely different from any other one we create."
Mendoza's penchant for using art as a relaxation method took a commercial turn when he began learning about NFTs through former teammate Matt Szczur last spring.
"Matt piqued my interest. I really had no knowledge of what an NFT was outside of a very basic level," Mendoza said. "I took it upon myself to not only learn more about them, but to ask questions and get the help I needed to start this venture. I found a developer who produces the randomly generated lines of code. Initially, I had no idea how my art could translate to an NFT, but I made sure I put myself out there and jumped in with both feet to get this off and running."
Throughout the season with Triple-A Memphis, Mendoza found time in the morning before heading to the ballpark, after games and even during the pregame meals to work at his new craft.
"Most guys play video games, watch TV or look at their phone. I used that time to draw," he said.
Mendoza's first official Dawg was created last August when Memphis was on a road trip in Nashville. From there, he and his developers continued to advance the venture, and on Dec. 5, 2021, he sold his first NFT. Business has been steady ever since.
"I know many baseball fans collected cards when they were kids," Mendoza said. "Those cards, in a way, had their own personalities, their own stats for each individual player. So it's not all that different from an NFT -- the sense of collecting something that is unique to them."
Of course, there is a business side to Diamond Dawgs. As Mendoza puts it, "Everyone's intentions in the NFT world are different." Some, he says, purchase them and collect as many as they can. Others see it as an investment, buying one and immediately flipping it for a profit.
"The prices for an individual Dawg generally range from $170-$200 on average," Mendoza said. "I've seen where some of my NFTs have been purchased for $175 and resold for $1,400. I think that's great. If that is a way for someone to enjoy this and also make money, I'm all for it."
As the owner and CEO of Diamond Dawgs, there is a financial aspect to consider. However, he has far bigger goals than just making money for himself. Diamond Dawgs generally receives around $100 per NFT sold plus a 5 percent royalty fee on whatever the token is resold for.
That revenue is being put back into his business and also distributed back to the NFT in various ways, including but not limited to:
- 20 Dawgs airdropped to random holders
- $1,000 per day giveaway to two winners for 15 days
- $20,000 donation to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research
- $20,000 in ETH (cryptocurrency) giveaway to 20 holders
But Mendoza has a specific long-term goal in mind, too. That is the design and construction of Diamond Dawgs HQ, an indoor baseball facility for kids who want to pursue their baseball dreams.
"I'd be so incredibly proud if I was able to build [Diamond Dawgs HQ]," he said. "I want kids to be able to come in, learn and just be themselves. No pressure from parents or outside coaches. I want it to be completely and totally about the kids without any outside interference."
Mendoza has a number of other initiatives in the works to facilitate Diamond Dawgs' growth. He's in the process of creating and releasing Legacy Dawgs, 77 additional NFTs that will have the personality traits of active and retired baseball players ... like Babe Ruth, for example.
He's also adding his autograph to a few select Dawgs, which entitles the lucky buyer to free tickets to one of Mendoza's Minor League games. A special stadium background -- of Baltimore's Camden Yards, home of Mendoza's favorite team growing up -- will be included. Collectors who purchase those NFTs will enjoy a one-on-one stadium tour with Mendoza prior to one of his games.
"I think all of this is a great way to introduce baseball fans to NFTs and to integrate communities," he said. "If I can bring people together and then give back to people who took the time to buy something of mine, I think that's a fair trade."
Through it all, Mendoza has never lost sight of his priorities. He's a professional baseball player, one who is a step away from the Majors. Nothing he does off the field will get in the way of that.
"I hope to keep contributing all I can to the creative world of NFTs," Mendoza said. "Some people may see this and think I'm forgetting about my job as a baseball player. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"I'm a ballplayer. That is what I am. But if there is something else I do and do well, and it brings a community of sorts together, then I'm going to do it. And that's what I've done."
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.