This morning, Nomar Garciaparra signed a one-day minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox so that his dream of retiring in a Sox uniform could be realized. After GM Theo Epstein unveiled the signing at a press conference, Nomar took the mic and announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
It’s the end of an era.
Maybe not for your average baseball fan, but it is for the citizens of Red Sox Nation, and it certainly is for me.
You see, Nomar and I go way back. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Jeremiah decided to pass the proverbial pen to me today, and why a random contributor is gracing the front pages of CSC. (Hi!) JG knew that Nomar’s retirement would mean something to me, and figured I’d have a few things to say about it. And I do. Please bear with me as I get all misty-eyed and rambly.
Growing up, my favorite player on the Red Sox was John Valentin, mostly because he played shortstop like I did. When I heard that he was being shifted to 3rd to make room for this hotshot new guy with a weird name, I have to admit I was a little miffed. Who did this “Nomar” character think he was?!
As the years went by and my waning interest in baseball began to un-wane, I realized that Nomar was – for lack of a better term – freakin’ awesome. He had this electric quality that was hard to describe… just the way he launched curving ropes up the middle, or leapt like a gazelle to throw to first after making what was inevitably an amazing snag at short… he was just really fun to watch. I was jealous of his skill with the glove, in awe of the bombs he could hit for such a skinny guy, amused by his OCD glove-pulling and toe-tapping routine at the plate, and, yes, a victim of a massive crush on him. To a 15-year-old girl obsessed with baseball, he was way beyond dreamy. I had a poster of him in my room that declared him “The Blessing” and “The Anti-Curse” (heh…), and for a few-week stretch during junior year of high school, I would start my day by stroking Poster Nomar’s nose five times. (I’m weird. I’m okay with that.)
Nomar’s prime was cut short when the Sports Illustrated Jinx struck, and after his wrist injury and ensuing rehab… well, he just wasn’t the same. He couldn’t hit the ball with the same laser intensity, he couldn’t come through in the clutch like he used to, he became injury-plagued. And the predatory Boston media started creeping in. People started saying we should trade him. Amidst the encroaching dark clouds, I kindled my flame of hope and love (how’s that for imagery?), declaring to any naysayer I came across that I would gladly whup some GM ass if anyone laid a finger on my Nomar. I naively thought he was untouchable. I mean, at the time, he and Pedro Martinez were the Boston Red Sox. They were fan favorites. They couldn’t possibly be traded… right?!
The day I found out Theo traded him to the Cubs… well, I’ll let a vintage blog post speak for me on that one. Basically, I was gutted. A shortstop-sized hole was left in my heart… and funnily enough, the same hole was left in the Red Sox. As Jeremiah wrote so eloquently a few months back, the team hasn’t had a reliable starting shortstop since The Dreaded Trade. It’s been a veritable revolving door out there at short since August 2004, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shake my head, tut, and say, “Told ya so” every time New Shortstop X doesn’t pan out.
It’s funny how being so enamored with a player can make you blind to the fact that your team might not be better off with him. Sure, the Sox have been weak in that position since Nomar left. But could Nomar himself have made things better? He really never was the same after getting plonked on the wrist by Al Effing Reyes, and it seemed like almost every other month I was hearing reports that he was injured again, on the DL again. He drifted from Chicago to Los Angeles, and then again to Oakland, and it was getting to the point where it seemed like teams were reluctant to give him – and his age, and his numerous injuries – a chance.
And while he may have faded a bit from some memories, I was still kindling that flame. I’m a proud owner of a Nomar Cubs shirt and a Nomar Dodgers shirt, and I even finagled some crappy tickets to a Sox-A’s game last season in hopes that I’d get to see him play again. (He sat out the game I attended… figures.)
And you know, only now am I realizing what that little flame of hope was even for. I wanted to see Nomar back in a Sox jersey again, and I wanted to see him finish his career in Boston. If the Hall of Fame comes a-courtin’, I want him to be wearing a blue cap with a red B. And I want to see a 5 hanging up among the other retired numbers over right field at Fenway someday.
Those last two may or may not happen, but at least I can gently snuff out my candle with a smile, knowing that Nomar ended his baseball career at home, with the Red Sox.
And I still think he’s freakin’ awesome.