The Rays’ Mike Zunino celebrates his solo home run during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Rays’ Mike Zunino celebrates his solo home run during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

A slice of Everett in this year’s World Series

The Rays’ Mike Zunino and the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor were teammates on the AquaSox in the summer of 2012.

The summer of 2012 was a heck of a time to be on the Everett AquaSox beat.

That year is best known in AquaSox land as the Summer of Zunino. Mike Zunino arrived to much fanfare when the Seattle Mariners’ first-round draft pick was assigned to Short Season-A Everett for his professional debut. He was, if anything, even better than advertised, as he spent the ensuing month pulverizing Northwest League pitching. Zunino-mania, which saw him receiving big ovations even from opposing crowds in places like Yakima and Spokane while Everett toured through Mariners territory, was by far the biggest sensation I witnessed during my 12 seasons covering the Sox.

Yet as good as Zunino was, there was another player on that team who, while not as hyped, was in his own way equally as effective. His name was Chris Taylor. He came with a good-glove, suspect-bat reputation as a shortstop, but an endless string of line drives and stolen bases saw Taylor waltz his way out of the Northwest League in about six weeks.

So there’s a certain degree of gratification that comes from seeing those particular two ex-AquaSox players squaring off against one another in this year’s World Series.

Zunino’s Tampa Bay Rays and Taylor’s Los Angeles Dodgers opened the World Series on Tuesday night in Game 1 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and the AquaSox class of 2012 reunion is giving Everett it’s small place in this year’s Fall Classic.

“If you were to ask me at the time if I thought both of them would be big leaguers, I would have said, ‘Absolutely,’” said AquaSox broadcaster Pat Dillon, who had a bird’s-eye view of those two in action in 2012.

Not only are they big leaguers, they’re now starters for World Series combatants.

Zunino is Tampa Bay’s starting catcher. After a brutal regular season that saw him bat .147 and strike out 37 times in 84 plate appearances, Zunino has redeemed himself during the postseason by slugging four home runs in 13 games, including the homer in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series that stood up as the game-winner in the decisive 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros.

Taylor continues to be Los Angeles’ utility knife, starting most of the Dodgers’ games at second base, but switching to left field late in games for defensive purposes. After batting .270 with eight homers in 56 games during the regular season, he’s hitting .200 in the postseason, including going 2-for-4 with a double in L.A.’s 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

So it’s AquaSox vs. AquaSox for baseball’s grandest prize.

Eight years ago they were on the same side, if only for a brief period.

Taylor, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia, opened the 2012 season with the Sox and played in 37 games with Everett, batting .328 with a .905 OPS and 13 stolen bases before being promoted to Clinton of the Low-A Midwest League in late July. Taylor was equal to his reputation in the field, but was far more of an impact bat than expected, spraying line drives into the gaps from the top of the order. And on a team filled with players with speed reputations, Taylor was probably the fastest.

Zunino, the third-overall selection out of the University of Florida and the Golden Spikes winner as college baseball’s best player, arrived in mid-July after extended contract negotiations. He batted .373 with 10 homers, 35 RBI and a 1.210 OPS in 29 games before skipping rungs as he was promoted to Jackson of the Double-A Southern League. His power from the middle of the order was prodigious, and he packed the stands everywhere Everett went as Mariners fans flocked to see the team’s new superstar prospect.

Zunino and Taylor ended up overlapping for just nine games. Everett was 6-3 in those games, with Zunino batting .394 with six extra-base hits and Taylor batting .359 with four stolen bases.

“If I had to throw out a team MVP for the 2012 club, I’d have co-MVPs, and they’d be Mike Zunino and Chris Taylor,” Dillon said.

Beyond their excellence on the field, Zunino and Taylor were appreciated for the attitudes they brought with them.

“He was just a really nice guy, a real upbeat and positive guy,” Dillon recalled about Zunino. “I remember interviewing him and him telling me how his mom was a softball player who played for the Italian national team, and he was proud of his mom. For a first-round guy who had the type of success he had at Florida, making his first minor-league stop, he had the attitude that he hadn’t made it yet, so he had to work his tail off to get to the next level.

“Chris was quiet, he was confident,” Dillon added. “He seemed to have the makeup of what the ideal ballplayer has mentally, which is no high highs, no low lows, just an even-keeled guy. If he was on a tear he’d think about the next at bat, if he was in a slump — which was not very often with us — he would think about the next at bat. He was just a good ballplayer. I remember (manager) Rob Mummau being very complimentary of the player he is.”

Both Zunino and Taylor figure to play important roles for their teams in the World Series, batting toward the bottom of their respective lineups and playing key defensive roles.

And who knows? Taylor was the NLCS MVP for the Dodgers in 2017. Maybe one of those 2012 AquaSox players will lift the Willie Mays World Series MVP Award trophy. Which one should it be? I suppose it depends on who you’re rooting for.

“I really don’t have any particular rooting interest,” Dillon said, “but I hope those guys play well, that’s for sure.”

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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