ESPN announced today that Nomar Garciaparra has signed a one-day minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox so he can retire in a Boston uniform. After that, he will join ESPN as a baseball analyst for “Baseball Tonight” and the occasional game itself. Quite honestly, I love stories like this. I still remember back to 2005 when Emmitt Smith signed a similar contract with the Dallas Cowboys. It shows that no matter where your career takes you, it is possible for a player to have such a profound experience on one team and with one fan-base that it stays with you throughout your entire career. Players want to play, but sometimes they also want to play in one particular place. In an age where athletes leave city after city chasing the next big contract, this is a heart-warming little story.
Nomar didn’t leave the Red Sox the way so many of our more famous athletes do. He didn’t jump to the Yankees for the biggest contract like Johnny Damon or make salary negotiations so complicated like Jason Bay did. He clearly wasn’t happy here in his final year (2004), but he sucked it up and dealt with it as best he could. I was fortunate to be at his 2004 return to Fenway. Some might remember this game as the one against Baltimore where Manny Ramirez intercepted a cutoff throw from Johnny Damon, enabling the Orioles hitter to score an inside-the-park home run. Nomar’s first at-bat was a truly magical experience, one that compliments well my first memory of him, which was of a home run he hit during a game I attended in high school (probably only my second or third Red Sox game ever to that point). In his return, he walked up to the plate and received a long-lasting standing ovation. He then proceeded to belt out a nifty little single. He would’ve added a double later in the game but the Baltimore left-fielder robbed him with a diving catch. In the end, it mattered little. Nomar was traded a month later and the Red Sox went on to win the World Series in large part due to the players we got by trading him.
When Nomar returned to Boston last season, he returned to a standing ovation that reduced him nearly to tears. It was touching, to say the least. Red Sox fans sometimes take heat for the way they turn on ex-players of theirs, and there is some merit to that. We hate Roger Clemens, especially those of us who don’t remember his time in Boston. We can’t stand Johnny Damon. And we booed Mark Bellhorn in his first return to Boston. But Nomar got a standing ovation. In some ways, Nomar Garciaparra was emblematic of the resurgence of the Red Sox. He peaked in the late 90s and early 200s. This was the same time that saw the acquisition of a young Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Derek Lowe. All of these player would factor into an era of Red Sox baseball that saw numerous playoff appearances and winning seasons. And at the heart of all of that was Nomar Garciaparra. For everything we got from him a decade ago, it will be nice to have him back with us, if only for one day.