There stood JD and Thad, A.J. and Daly and Rodolfo Rosario, and Jim Sundberg. Boyd and Krug and Bobby Crook and Matt Klotsche. Scott Littlefield and Kip Fagg and Mike Grouse and John Booher and Randy Taylor.
Ron Washington and every coach on his staff, including Scott Coolbaugh, who stood on the mound.
A half dozen others from the Rangers’ Baseball Operations and scouting crews were on hand as well, and about a dozen media members, plus 400 kids in the stands competing in the USSSA Baseball World Series, ages 7 through 14, all watching intently as a kid who turned 16 less than three months ago and agreed to turn pro this weekend for a reported $5 million took live BP cuts off Coolbaugh.
Nomar Mazara doesn’t hit right-handed like Juan Gonzalez did, and doesn’t switch-hit like Ruben Sierra Sr. did, but he does hit left-handed like Darryl Strawberry did, and the kid’s sleek frame and easy power – and that recognizable high leg kick – conjured up the names of all three as he barreled up from right center to left center, and back.
Soon joining Mazara and 17-year-old Tyler Coolbaugh (dutifully giving Mazara regular breaks between turns in the cage) was Josh Hamilton, whose swing resembles Mazara’s only in the handedness from which the rifle reports are delivered.
But the handy contrast made me think about what Hamilton must’ve looked like at age 16, or what Mazara will look like in two years, when he’ll be 18, the age at which Hamilton was not only the number one overall pick in the amateur draft but also signed for $3.96 million, at the time (1999) the highest draft bonus ever paid.
And a million bucks less than Texas is paying its newest prospect, a mere two years older than some of the kids in the stands cheering every ball that lifted off his bat or Hamilton’s, especially the ones that Hamilton deposited into the upper porch or Mazara blasted into the home bullpen.
It would be pretty cool if Hamilton is still a productive part of this team when Mazara gets back to Arlington three or four years from now, an admittedly optimistic timetable.
But in the meantime they shared somewhat of a little stage today, hours before Hamilton would be the only Rangers starter to go hitless in a brawny 13-5 win that completed a sweep of the Orioles and put Texas back into sole possession of first place in the West.
A lot has happened since Hamilton was the teenaged kid cutting through all the fanfare to get his career started, and it was a lot different for him, a much higher profile prospect who was two years older than Mazara is, who would report immediately to a stateside minor league team rather than stay back in the invisible Dominican sub-leagues (Mazara won’t even play in the Dominican Summer League this season), and who was immediately crowned as the future of the Tampa Bay franchise, while Mazara arrives instead as the latest key piece in an already-steady pipeline of prime minor league talent that Wednesday’s two dozen attentive Rangers officials have played a large part in building, and sustaining.
Hamilton was built a lot more like Mazara at age 18 than he is today, but I wonder as he watched the kid hit baseballs for the first time as a pro if he was able to remember the time, 11 years ago, when he was that kid himself, dreaming big dreams that he’d eventually achieve, even if not exactly on the path he’d imagined. Eleven years is a lifetime in pro ball. For Hamilton, eleven years ago is probably hard to even recall. But maybe seeing the wide-eyed Mazara, confident but deferential, and absurdly young, brought a couple memories back.
That’s a couple guys pretty happy to be Texas Rangers, even if for very different reasons, but I’m going to go ahead and register my hope that the next time we see a scene like that in Arlington, with Hamilton and Mazara alongside one another and suited up for baseball, it’s with the two left-left monsters holding down the outfield corners and treating opposing pitchers like they were throwing batting practice.