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Welcome Back, And Goodbye, Nomahhh
11th March, 2010 - 2:59 pm

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Welcome Back, And Goodbye, Nomahhh

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By Randolph Charlotin

Great players stand out from the rest. Usually it?s because of amazing statistics or the high level of consistency that separates them from their peers.

But ask a Red Sox fan what they recall about shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and the first characteristic they mention is Nomar?s at-bat routine.

Before stepping into the batter?s box, Nomar adjusted his batting gloves: he tugged the elastic cuffs towards the elbow, he?d push down on the webbing between the fingers, pull on the cuffs again, but from the palm side, and Garciaparra repeated it what seemed like several times in the span of about 20-30 seconds. And in the batter?s box, Nomar danced, tapping his toes as he rocked back and forth.

The routine was bad enough as-is. But between every pitch, Garciaparra stepped out of the box and repeated his obsessive-compulsive adjustments, whether he swung or left the bat on his shoulder, to ensure a snug fit. And it was the same two-step as he starred down the pitcher.

Call it annoying, call it ridiculous, but it worked. For nine years, Garciaparra established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball, changing how shortstops were viewed offensively.

Nomar batted like a fidgety four-year-old boy, impatient for every pitch, rarely waiting for the right ball to swing at. It wasn?t a Moneyball approach that?s so popular today that stresses quality at-bats and taking walks to get on base. No one swung at more first pitches than Garciaparra, and no one got more first pitch hits than Nomar. It was a backwards approach to hitting like the name Ramon. But to Nomar, he was in the batter?s box to hit, not walk.

This aggressive style resulted in seven of nine seasons in Boston with better than a .300 average and two batting titles. Consistency was half of Garciaparra?s greatness, as he hit for power as well, stroking more than 20 homeruns six times for the Red Sox.

What ties Nomar to Boston so strongly is he came up through the Sox?s farm system. Fans knew who he was and were anxious for Garciaparra?a promotion to full-time starter. He didn?t let the fans down in 1997, as he wowed the majors with a .303 average, 30 homers, and voted AL Rookie of the Year.

As great as he was, Nomar was overshadowed by the New York Yankees? Derek Jeter and Seattle/Texas? Alex Rodriguez. Jeter won championships as a precocious leader for the Yanks. And no matter the power numbers Garciaparra put up, it was nowhere close to A-Rod?s bombs in either frequency or distance.

But Nomar made his mark in Boston. I still remember Nomar?s confidence in the 1999 ALDS after the Sox fell behind 0-2 to Cleveland and game three in Fenway Park on the horizon. When asked by a reporter if the team was nervous, he replied, ?Nervous? No?we got them right where we want them.?

True to his word, the Red Sox rallied and won the next three games by outscoring the Indians 44-18 in the final three games.

But a World Series remained out of reach for Nomar and the Sox. Or maybe it was within reach, but Boston?s defense held the team back. Hobbled by Achilles tendinitis that Garciaparra needed to rest for it to heal, Boston sent their child to Chicago for healthy shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Meintkiewicz as part of a four team trade.

Even though Nomar was bothered that the team tried to replace him with A-Rod before the season, he said goodbye with, ??hopefully we [the Cubs] see them in the World Series.?

Sacrificing Nomar brought the Sox their first World Series since 1918, ending an 86-year curse. It might be bittersweet for Garciaparra, but he got a ring for that championship and deserves it.

As the years passed, Nomar?s body betrayed him as he missed more and more time. He missed 385 of 810 games over the next five years. Moving from shortstop didn?t help keep him on the field either. With no team interested in signing him to play this year, Nomar went back home.

Time healed the wound caused by Boston?s A-Rod flirtation, and with no animosity, the man called ?Nomahhh? signed a one-day contract to retire as a Boston Red Sox.

It was a great nine years in Boston for Garciaparra. He was selected to five All-Star games (six total). He won two batting titles. He even met his wife, soccer legend Mia Hamm, while filming a commercial. Nomar won?t make the Hall of Fame. He might be forgotten as one of the shortstops that changed the game during his prime. But Boston will remember him as a professional on the field and a class act off it (he never got in a late night car accident returning from The Foxy Lady).

And, of course, Boston will remember Nomar?s at-bats. We?ll be looking to see if Nomahhh can sit still behind the ESPN desk.

Read more by Randolph Charlotin at his New England Patriots blog at . He can be reached at talktome@randolphc.com.