Joey Gallo on 2012 AZL Rangers: "Special year for all of us"
They were kings of the Arizona Rookie League six summers ago. Rulers of the Holiday Inn Express of Surprise, Ariz.
Other teams were awed by their size, their power at the plate and on the mound and their athleticism, even though their professional careers were in their infancy.
No other team looked and played like the AZL Rangers. And with good reason.
With the addition of Ronald Guzman last week to the Texas Rangers' roster, 10 players from that team have reached the major leagues. Guzman became the sixth to do so with the Rangers.
Five of them, from arguably the Rangers' most ballyhooed rookie team since 1986 (Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Dean Palmer, Kevin Brown), were available Friday night to manager Jeff Banister as the Rangers opened a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
And the first memory those five members of the 2012 AZL Rangers had this week was the same.
"You're seeing it right now," right fielder Nomar Mazara said. "We're playing together right now. We're still playing together. It's crazy."
Invariably, and almost to a man, it doesn't take long for them to mention the first time they saw Joey Gallo hit a baseball.
The exception was, well, Gallo himself.
"I'd never seen anyone with that kind of power," Guzman said.
"Crazy," left-hander Alex Claudio said. "Animal."
It was routine to see Gallo hit home runs high into light towers or over light towers or over scoreboards. He launched a league-record 18 homers and drove in a league-best 37 runs en route to MVP honors.
Assistant general manager Josh Boyd recalls a Gallo homer that cleared the large scoreboard in right-center field at Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Los Angeles Angels.
Boyd knew what he had just seen happen, from an 18-year-old, but wasn't exactly sure what had just happened.
"There's 15 people there and I'm sitting by the two or three pitchers charting the game, and my jaw dropped at this mammoth shot," Boyd said. "I was looking around at other people, and was like, 'How are we supposed to react to that?' They were like, 'He hits balls like that or further every day. We see it all the time.'"
Guzman spent most of his teen years in the Dominican Republic either playing with Mazara or attending tryout camps with him. They both signed with the Rangers on the same day, July 2, 2011, with Mazara getting a $4.95 million bonus and Guzman landing $3.45 million.
After three years watching Mazara, Guzman thought no one could be more powerful. Guzman claims he once saw Mazara hit 13 of 15 balls for home runs during one tryout.
"We had two intrasquad games before the season, and we saw Gallo hit his first home run, and we were like, 'That guy's got some power,'" Guzman said. "Seeing Gallo, it was a lot more power."
Mazara left an impression, too. Was he really only 17, and 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds?
"I remember the first time I ever saw Maz. It was over at the Holiday Inn," right-hander Keone Kela said. "Nomar was already this kid with a big-ass beard. I'm like, 'He's 17? What? Check his birth certificate.'"
Others on the team who have debuted elsewhere include 2012 first-round pick Lewis Brinson, who was one of three prospects traded to Milwaukee in 2016 for catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress; second-rounder Nick Williams, one of five prospects sent to Philadelphia in 2015 for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman; and right-hander Carl Edwards Jr., part of the 2013 package for Matt Garza.
Jon Edwards, the converted outfielder from Keller now out of baseball, and Roman Mendez, now in the Washington organization, debuted with the Rangers in 2014.
Guzman is the last, or the latest as right-hander Collin Wiles, left-hander Ryne Slack, infielder Luis Mendez and catcher Charles Moorman are at Double A Frisco. Infielder Luis Marte is at Triple A Round Rock.
"I'm here, so that's all that matters," Guzman said.
They were big, really big, and dreamed even bigger. They hit the ball a mile, or two miles in Gallo's case. They threw the ball hard, except for Claudio. They also won the league title, a memory that is fresh to many of them, and won throughout their journeys to the majors.
"The competition of similar age, talent, athletes competitors, there was definitely excitement following those guys," Boyd said. "That combination of impact tools, athleticism, the BPs, just the raw talent, the things that we get excited about on the back field, stand out so much."
The team beat the AZL A's in the one-game championship. That A's team included Rangers newcomer Renato Nunez, Tampa Bay second baseman Daniel Robertson and A's first baseman Matt Olson.
"We knew at the time it was a special team," said Gallo, who was selected 39th overall in 2012. "It's awesome to see all the guys realizing their dream."
That title still holds significant meaning to the group. Kela, the Rangers' closer, keeps a photo of the on-field dog pile on his computer, and the ring the players received the next spring means the world to him.
And, now, they're back together.
"We were able to put something together and we have something to reminisce about collectively that will always humble us," said Kela, the Rangers' 12th-round pick in 2012. "We won that 2012 ring, and that's the most special thing I have in baseball. That ring, until we're able to bring one to Texas."