Updated May 14, 2022 - 7:04 pm
It has been nearly 50 years since a group of youngsters who grew up playing baseball together last met at Tonopah Park in North Las Vegas and chose up sides.
Four would go on to play in the major leagues.
Nine were drafted by big league clubs.
There probably never will be another collection of players like those who represented Rancho High School and its American Legion team during the late 1970s.
“You’re not even going to get that out of (Bishop) Gorman now,” said Mike Guerra, whose father, Manny, spent 31 years as a major league scout and usually presided over those pickup games and strategy sessions.
It wasn’t called travel ball or club ball or a major league showcase, though that was exactly what it was. Moreover, it didn’t cost the players a cent.
“When those guys were little, they used to come over on Christmas Day and want to play baseball,” Manny Guerra said before his death in 2018.
Those guys were Marty Barrett, his brother Tommy, Mike Maddux and Mike Morgan, all of whom made it to the big leagues. Mike Guerra, Mark Bloomfield, John Huntington, Perry Swanson and Jeff Wolfe were provided the chance after also being drafted by big league clubs.
“That’s amazing, isn’t it?” said Marty Barrett, who set a MLB record with 24 hits in 14 postseason games in 1986 as the second baseman for the Boston Red Sox. “Back then, there wasn’t any travel ball. Little League was all we had. Most of those nine guys played on the same Little League team, too.
“We didn’t play nearly as many games as they do nowadays with club ball. I’m thinking we might have put 12, 13 guys in (the pros) if we were putting that much effort into it back then.”
Guerra said of those Rancho players of yesteryear, Tonopah Park was the equivalent of the sandlot in the coming of age movie of the same name.
“Dad would stop us in the middle of a game, and he would go over hitting — it was a pickup game, yeah, but everybody was learning … how to play the game,” said the former outfielder and third baseman who played for UNLV and was drafted in the 17th round in 1978 by the Seattle Mariners.
“You don’t see that anymore. It’s all structured.”
Barrett said he took what he learned from Manny Guerra and throwing the ball around with his former Rams teammates and put it to good use as a pro. The 1986 ALCS MVP struck out just 209 times in 3,378 major league at-bats.
Along with Morgan, who made his MLB debut just days after graduating from high school and pitched in the majors for 22 seasons, Barrett is the most decorated of the Rancho Nine. But he said what he recalled most about playing ball at Tonopah Park was how much fun it all was.
“That’s all we lived for; we wanted to play all the time,” said Barrett, who now spends most of his time playing golf in Las Vegas and San Diego, where he owns homes. “I remember there was an A&W Root Beer stand around the corner, and we’d all go for a root beer after we played.
“It was a great time. I feel real fortunate for having grown up in that era. Our parents would say be home when the street lights came on, and we never got into trouble.
“I’m not sure that could happen nowadays.”
Team for the ages
During its halcyon days in the 1970s, Rancho High won two state championships and had nine players selected in the Major League Baseball draft. Four made it to the major leagues (players in bold):
— Marty Barrett (Red Sox, Round 1, 1979)
— Tommy Barrett (Yankees, Round 26, 1982)
— Mike Maddux (Reds, Round 36, 1979; Phillies Round 5, 1982)
— Mike Morgan (A’s, Round 1, 1978)
— Mark Bloomfield (Royals, Round 27, 1981)
— Mike Guerra (Mariners, Round 17, 1978)
— John Huntington (Reds, Round 21, 1975)
— Perry Swanson (White Sox, Round 7, 1977)
— Jeff Wolfe (Angels, Round 23, 1976)