When He Was a Crawdad: Nomar Mazara
On Sunday afternoon, April 10, at a major league ballpark in Anaheim, California, Nomar Mazara joined the ranks of men and played major league baseball for the first time. He did so 16 days before his 21st birthday, when in this country you can legally buy a drink as a man.
However, Nomar Mazara has been a man for a while now. Physically, when he came to Hickory, Mazara was 6-foot-4, 200-pounds. He sported a beard that was Amish in appearance and was the perfect shape to match the grin that Mazara carried around the clubhouse and pretty much everywhere – except onto the field where he was all business.
Mentally, Mazara has carried himself a man for a while now and it showed when he moved to the U.S. at the age of 16. One does not move from your native country to a land where you don’t speak the language, and take it upon himself to learn it.
“My first year in the United States,” said Mazara in an interview I did with him for an article I wrote for the Hickory Daily Record in July 2013. “I just hung around American people and just heard English, English, English. No Spanish. I just kept learning and tried to speak it.”
Maturity-wise, you could see that Mazara was already a man and his parents had much to do with that. A native of Santo Domingo, D.R., Mazara is the son of a retired general in the Dominican navy. Mazara described his home life as one with strict rules, but rules that helped prepare him to have the makeup that made him a major leaguer. When he went to sign what at the time was the largest bonus ($4.95 M) given to an international player, his mom made sure that he remained grounded.
“My agent told me I was going to sign for a lot of money,” said Mazara, “But my mom said that I need to keep working hard and to stay humble.”
The Rangers have long seen the potential for the already well-taught, physically-gifted man on the baseball field. He hit third in the lineup for Arizona Summer League lineup that won the league title.
He debuted as the number three hitter in the lineup to open the 2013 Hickory Crawdads season and it said a lot about the potential of a young man, given that on that April 5 evening he was 21 days shy of his 18th birthday. He was the first 17-year-old to play for the Crawdads in their then 21st season.
“A special kid, just as far as the maturity and the way that he carries himself and the way that he handles himself,” said Corey Ragsdale, Mazara’s manager for three minor league seasons. “He’s always been a hard worker and has become one of our best players on a day-to-day basis. I can’t say enough good things about him, honestly.”
He struggled mightily that first month of his Crawdads career, hitting just .160 (nine singles) and striking out 23 times in 60 at bats. But my memory of Mazara in those early April days was that he wasn’t so much overmatched at the plate, as he was developing a way to finish at bats. I recall a player that worked the count and, despite his large frame, showed uncommon bat control in fouling off strike-two pitch after strike-two pitch.
Physically gifted, mentally tough and with an uncommon maturity for an 18-year-old, Mazara used all that to become a man on the baseball field, and I was blessed to see the baseball part of that happen before my eyes. It’s a favorite stretch of time for me in minor league baseball.
It was June 2014, a month in which Hickory went an incredible 24-3. It was a month in which Mazara finally put the tools together after his batting stance evolved. In 52 games over the months of June and July, Mazara had 51 RBI, scored 44 runs. From June 19 until the time Mazara left Hickory for AA Frisco on August 4 his slash line was .282/.389/.537.
The individual play I will remember Mazara for came in the field when he made one of the two best outfield throws I’ve seen since watching games at L. P. Frans Stadium in 2003. (The other was a play by Jason Heyward.) It came in the sixth inning of a game on June 3 against the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs. After Miguel Andjuar had doubled to lead off the inning, Eduardo del Oleo lofted a fly ball to medium deep right field, which seemed to be easily deep enough to advance the runner to third. As Andujar tagged and took off Mazara whipped his left arm and cannoned the ball about 200 feet (a guess here) to third baseman Nick Vickerson, who hid the fact a throw was incoming. As the throw arrived, Vickerson speared the dead-on throw and slap the tag on Andujar, who was easing into third, for the out. This was now a man on the field and I got to see it. And Mazara was still just 19.
Another memory I will have of Mazara came during a time he was not here. Mazara’s long-time friend Ronald Guzman was involved in a fatal accident in the fall of 2014. As the legal wrangling cleared, it was Mazara who brought Guzman to his house to clear his mind from the incident and help him prepare for the 2015.
“I worked out a lot in the offseason with Mazara,” Guzman said. “I went to Santo Domingo to work out with him. For a couple of months I focused on my body and focused on my swing. We worked on a lot of stuff. We worked hard together staying healthy and getting ready for the season.”
I have no doubt that at 20, Mazara is ready for what the majors has to offer. I’m sure Mazara will have his struggles, as all rookies do. He may eventually need more seasoning at AAA when all is said and done. But this is a man joining a man’s baseball world and I have a sense that Mazara will soon be a man among men.