Remembering 'Nomah': A Prelude to Wednesday's Ceremonies

Show me a ten year-old that isn’t impressionable and I’ll show you a rarity.

The year was 1997; as a child not impervious to influence, I entered Milwaukee County Stadium to see my favorite team -- the Boston Red Sox -- play baseball for the first time in my life. In retrospect, I would consider myself more of a casual observer of the Red Sox at the time; an occasional follower rather than the obsessive die-hard that I have since become. I was a ten year-old with paralleling priorities -- something that, unbeknownst to me, was about to be drastically altered.

Until that day I had never bore witness to a real Major League Baseball game or stadium -- one that I can vividly recall anyway -- much less one featuring my Boston Red Sox. For myself at the time, first-hand visualizations of what a baseball stadium might look like were limited to my local Little League diamonds or the makeshift wiffle-ball field replica of Fenway Park that I had in my back yard (complete with the Big Yellow Monster in left field; my mom was opposed to painting the house green for authenticity). However, both paled in comparison to what I was introduced to that afternoon. Looking back nowadays -- occasionally aided by the movie "Major League" -- Milwaukee County Stadium sure doesn’t seem all that visually impressive. On this particular day however, to say that it was breathtaking would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Equipped with the all too common combination of baseball and black sharpie -- as well as upper-deck seats and an irrepressible desire for an autograph -- I set out on a quest for an encounter with a Red Sox, ultimately hoping for the ability to cite their signature as documentation.

 

1997 was Nomar Garciaparra’s first full season in the Major Leagues and the then 23 year-old hadn’t yet begun truly etching his place in Red Sox lore. At the time, a mere 55 games into his rookie campaign, he was hitting only .270 with just a single home run -- which are, after all, the two most important statistics to most kids age ten and under. Needless to say, the casually observing adolescent that I was had not become immersed in the phenomenon that would eventually be known universally as ‘Nomah’ quite yet. However, on this June 5th game in Milwaukee the Red Sox opted to rest Garciaparra in favor of Mike Benjamin at the shortstop position; a blessing in disguise for my sharpie-related ambitions and I.

Over a decade ago, Major League Baseball games were a more innocent event in comparison to those nowadays -- or so it seemed to 10 year-old me at least -- which also meant softer security prior to the game’s first pitch. Even with the word "nosebleeds" essentially printed on my ticket next to my section and seat number, I was admitted entrance to the lower level during player warm-ups. After instinctively utilizing my diminutive stature to sneak towards the front of the small gathering of like-minded signature-seekers amassed near the visitor’s dugout, I got my first glimpse of the instigating party behind my eventual Red Sox obsession -- Nomar Garciaparra.

With the day off, a more lax Nomar had spent a good portion of batting practice signing autographs. However, I realized that I was a little late to the party when I heard him declare, "Okay, one more, guys" upon approaching. Yet, thanks in large part to a minor fib -- as far as Nomar is concerned, my birthday came three months late that year -- the up and coming shortstop bypassed several other kids and I got what is still to this day considered my most treasured pretend birthday gift: Nomar Garciaparra’s autograph.

By no other way than default, Nomar Garciaparra instantly became my favorite member of the Red Sox -- and so began the subsequent years of passionate Red Sox fan hood. It’s with that in mind that I write this Nomar tribute of sorts.

Ironically [in relation to my aforementioned sentiments], Nomar Garciaparra was initially drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1991 following a stellar career at St. John Bosco High School in California. However, Nomar did not sign with Milwaukee, instead opting to attend college at Georgia Tech. Playing alongside future Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek -- the duo eventually becoming the first two Yellow Jackets to be named two-time All-Americans -- Garciaparra led his school to an appearance in the 1994 College World Series Championships.

Following a collegiate career in which he also accrued academic All-American honors, Nomar was selected 12th overall in round one of the 1994 MLB amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox.

It didn’t take long for Nomar to make his first appearance in Boston. On August 31st, 1996, then 22 years of age, Garciaparra made his debut with the Red Sox, entering as the second baseman during the late innings of a blowout loss courtesy of the Oakland Athletics. Despite going hitless in his first and only at bat in his initial appearance in the Major Leagues, Nomar was given his first big league start the very next day against that same Oakland team. This time he went 3-5, even notching his first career home run (which was also the first hit of his career); a performance that would ultimately spawn his stronghold on the Red Sox’s shortstop position for years to come.

The following season Nomar made a lasting impression in Boston by unanimously winning the American League’s Rookie of the Year award. He was also elected to the MLB All-Star game and began a string of four straight years in which he finished among the top ten in American League Most Valuable Player considerations. His 98 runs batted in set an MLB record for most RBI by a leadoff hitter and his 30 home runs were the most ever by a rookie shortstop. His 1997 30-game hitting streak also set a record for the most ever by an American League rookie, and his 209 hits and 11 triples led the league.

While 1997 marked the commencement of ‘Nomah’ hysteria in Boston, 1999-2000 saw its peak.

In those two seasons, Garciaparra established himself as one of the best all-around shortstops in Major League Baseball. He averaged 24 home runs and 100 RBI and won the American League batting title both years (1999-.357, 2000-.372).

Following nearly a decade of iconic success as a member of the Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra was traded to the Chicago Cubs during the 2004 season in a four-team trade that brought Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz -- and ultimately a World Series ring -- to Boston.

Following his departure from Boston in 2004, the Red Sox have experienced well-documented struggles in attempting to replace Garciaparra at the shortstop position -- making his contributions exponentially missed by Fenway faithful.

However, 2004 would not be the last time that Nomar found himself a member of the Boston Red Sox organization.

In early March of this year, Nomar Garciaparra agreed to terms on a one-day contract with Boston so that he could fulfill his dream of retiring as a Red Sox. "I've always had a recurring dream, to be able to retire in a Red Sox uniform. Thanks to [owners] Mr. [John] Henry, Mr. [Tom] Werner, Mr. [Larry] Lucchino and [general manager] Theo [Epstein], today I get to fulfill that dream and retire as a Red Sox," Garciaparra said during a press conference at the Red Sox’s spring training facility on March 11th. "[…] to be able to have that dream come true, I really just can't put into words because of what this organization has always meant to me, meant to my family, the fans. I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there, and to be able to tell people that I came back home to be back to Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill." Not only a proper, but an essential end to a great career in Major League Baseball.

Garciaparra’s contributions in Boston on the field (and off) will forever cement his place in Red Sox history. Regardless of those who comprise the list of his predecessors and successors to date, Nomar Garciaparra’s legacy is nothing short of being the greatest shortstop in the history of the Boston Red Sox -- a legacy that will finally be commemorated on May 5th at Fenway Park

Prior to Wednesday night’s scheduled game against the visiting Angels, members of Garciaparra’s family, Red Sox personnel and Nomar himself will be on hand participating in ceremonies to be held in front of the fans whose admiration for him is only paralleled by that which he offers in return.

"Everywhere I go I get so many [Red Sox fans] come to me and tell me 'Thank you. We miss you. We still love you,' and it's so genuine and the feeling is mutual. Hopefully from my actions throughout my career in that uniform and hopefully my actions today again tell them what it means to me."

From 10 year-old me as well as the rest of Red Sox Nation: Thanks, Nomah.

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