It was July of 2011 when the Texas Rangers first brought Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara to the ballpark to introduce them.
They were two skinny 16-year-olds from the Dominican Republic and hardly looked like the kind of guys all of baseball was talking about.
But baseball was. The Rangers had just given Mazara a $4.95 million signing bonus, the richest ever paid to an international free agent amateur. On the same day, Guzman was awarded a $3.45 million bonus, the second-most (behind Mazara) ever given to an international amateur position player.
Guzman remembers the visit to Arlington well.
“Yes — 16 years old, tall, skinny guy. Long time ago,” he said, smiling at the memory.
But the other 29 baseball teams weren’t the ones smiling back then. How could an organization, they were saying, spend $8.4 million on a couple of unproven outfielders barely old enough to shave?
Mazara gave them half of the answer a year ago. Guzman, teenaged and gangly no more, may soon answer the rest.
When Shin-Soo Choo was injured last April, Mazara was summoned to the major leagues and remained.
Here are a couple of stat lines for you:
Player A — 111 games, 22 doubles, 3 triples, 13 home runs, 56 RBIs, .284 average, .800 OPS.
Player B — 102 games, 16 doubles, 5 triples, 5 home runs, 56 RBIs, .288 average, .825 OPS.
Pretty similar, yes? The first line is Mazara’s 2015 season at Double A Frisco, his last significant minor league season before making the jump to the big leagues.
Player B is Guzman and his 2016 season at Frisco.
The kid who looked like a tall bat boy in 2011 is the biggest man in the Rangers’ major league clubhouse this spring. He carries about 250 pounds of muscle and stands, oh, 10 axe handles high. His broad shoulders befit his minor league nickname, Condor.
Guzman dresses with the major leaguers this spring, but he appears destined to begin the season playing first base for Triple A Round Rock. He understands what his job is for these six weeks.
“I came in ready,” he said. “I worked a lot in the off-season. I’m trying to look like a big league player. That’s what I wanted them to see — to see that I’m ready to play at this level.
“Some of these guys I’m around have played in the big leagues for a long time. When I’m on the field, I don’t want to look any different than them.”
Time may soon tell whether Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his scouting staff hit the daily double that day in 2011.
The international signing rules were different. The Rangers spent $12.83 million in bonuses that year. The next highest amount was spent by Toronto, $7.57 million. By comparison, the New York Yankees spent $2.93 million in international bonuses.
In the off-season that followed, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow accused the Rangers of “spending like drunken sailors.” And though he apologized for his choice of words, the line lives on each time the two teams play.
Each time the Rangers rally at home against Houston, ballpark announcer extraordinaire Chuck Morgan plays the old sea song What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?
Major league teams must now abide by an assigned bonus pool governed by a hard cap. A proposal to institute a true international draft failed to be approved.
Guzman was one of three players from the Dominican Republic who were asked to speak against the draft proposal at an MLB meeting in Dallas. High school baseball in the Dominican, he explained, barely exists.
“We need more time to get used to this — the language, the culture, everything,” Guzman said. “I will always be against it. I wanted to support the new guys coming up.
“I want them to have the same chance I had. It took me a little while to be the person I am right now, so it’s not fair for them not to get that chance.”
At 22, Guzman’s English is exemplary for a Latin American player.
“I like English,” he said. “I also wanted to separate myself. I didn’t want to be a guy that needed a translator and he doesn’t say exactly what you want to say.
“So I watch a lot of movies. I listen to music. My teammates correct me when my pronunciation isn’t right.”
For the record, his name is Ronald Guzman. He plays first base. And you’ve already been introduced.