This is how it ended.
I used to love Nomar Garciaparra. He was everything I wanted the Sox’ biggest star to be. He was a shortstop (as I imagined myself to be), was home grown and looked like he was going to be the face of the franchise for the forseeable future. He even wore my number, 5. And he could hit. Ted Williams once compared him to Joe Dimaggio, which is like having Superman compare you to Batman. He was going to be the guy to break .400. More importantly he was going to be the guy to get us that ring we had been waiting for and struggling for our entire lives.
Nomar Garciaparra was good for the Red Sox and the city of Boston. I still remember going to a game against the Braves during his 30 game hit streak when he had to wear a throwback uni, but wore his lucky regular one under it. I learned all of his quirks when he was in the batters box, as did thousands of other kids in the area, and I loved him for what he could have become. He was supersitious like us, he wanted it bad and worked hard like us and he seemed to be happiest when he was playing. Nomar was the spark that started the fire. He was the guy that gave us the hope that we could actually win something. He was really really good, and all we needed was to put the pieces in place around him.
Now, it seems like an eternity ago.
But, after Pedro had arrived and then Schiiling, after Ortiz became a force and Manny was Manny, on one sweltering July night at camp, I lost my faith in Nomar, and, in Boston, before the greatest comeback and the bloody sock, faith was all that we had to go on.
Everyone remembers the game. It was another marathon against the Yanks. Thirteen innings. Nomar had just come off the DL and was sitting the game out due to the fabled “sore knee” (the same one that some steroid using douche used to get his ass out of town four years later). I had just graduated from college and was spending the summer at camp before coming home and attempting to become a real person (look how well that turned out). I was in the head counselor’s cabin with about 15 of my campers watching the game as the night, and the small room, seemed to grow hotter and hotter. Guys from both teams made great plays but the true images that will linger with me of that game are of three shortstops. One was Derek Jeter (a guy who you can’t hate just because you respect him too much) who leapt into the stands head first to make a catch, risking his “beautiful face” to get the out. Another was Pokey Reece, who dove into the photographers well to make a catch of his own early in the game, and had been out there working through injury and pain to get on the field all season. The third was Nomar, who sat on the bench, and refused to pinch hit in a key divisional game. The Sox lost.
I remember the day that Nomar was traded. I was standing in the middle of boys area when the head counselor came outside and yelled to the assembled masses what had been done. Nomar was no longer one of us. He’d been sent to the Cubbies for Orlando Cabrera (who I knew was good, but did not know had “off field issues”), Doug Mientkewitz, and spare parts.
It was, for a few seconds, a sad moment. He had been, before the injuries and the struggles, the embodyment of hope for a fan base that had nothing else to go on. But then I remembered the night, just a few weeks before, when I had personally said goodbye to the Nomar that I had Idolized for so long.
Just like Manny, when he was traded it was more of a relief than anything. It got us better defense, and eventually a ring (smile), but at the moment it was a chance to rid ourselves of a clubhouse cancer, a guy who had turned down an overly generaous contract and was pissed when they took it off the table when he was hurt. Nomar wasn’t ready for the spotlight that came with being the face of the Boston Red Sox when he came up, and he never truly got used to it. He didn’t like the media, only liked the fans when he was on the field and was never happy about being approached in public.
Boo Nomar tonight, because he cost us our faith and gave up on his team, because he was never one of us and never wanted to be, and because he should have been the guy holding the trophy, not the angry guy who left the party two hours early.
But tomorrow, you can cheer him, for all the good he did while he was here.