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Nomar Garciaparra: A Member of the Red Sox Once Again

After 14 years, Nomar Garciaparra’s career has finally come full circle. On August 31st, 1996, Nomar made is major league debut in a Red Sox uniform as a defensive replacement. The next day, Nomar burst onto the offensive scene with his first major league hit, a HR against RHP John Wasdin (his teammate the following season). From that moment on, Nomar dazzled defensively and showed offensive ability beyond his years, while becoming one of the most beloved Red Sox players in recent memory.

…To be able to have that dream come true, I just can’t put it into words what this organization has always meant to me. It’s my family, the fans — I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there. I came back home, and to be part of Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill. – Nomar Garciaparra

It was hard to miss Nomar’s talent and ability growing up, because he was good at everything he tried. A three sport athlete in high school, Nomar finished with a GPA of 4.0 and was his graduating class valedictorian. In college at Georgia Tech, Nomar made the College World Series in 1994, along his future Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek. Nomar was a 2-time All-Star selection in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and a 2-time All-American selection, one of only 3 all time from Georgia Tech to accomplish this honor (Jason Varitek and Matt Wieters).

Nomar was one of many players who had the option to enter professional baseball before completing college, being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1991 at age 18. Nomar opted for college, and his game certainly benefited for the decision when he was drafted for a second time by the Red Sox in 1994. Having college experience allowed Nomar to quickly rise through the system and make his major league debut less than 2 years later. There was no turning back for Nomar once he stepped onto the Fenway diamond.

During Nomar’s rookie campaign in 1997, his numbers were staggering. He hit .306 with 30 HR’s, 98 RBI’s, 22 SB’s and over 200 total hits in 153 games. Nomar was selected as an AL All-Star mid-way through 1997, which was the first of 6 selections for him throughout his career (5 in Boston, 1 in LA). Nomar took home the Rookie of the Year award and Silver Slugger award in addition to his All-Star selection that season. By any standards, Nomar had one of the most incredible rookie seasons of all time, hitting for both power and average and playing a strong shortstop with a .971 fielding percentage.

Nomar continued to succeed in his sophomore campaign and beyond. He hit above .300 every season except during an injury shortened 2001 (played only 21 games), and hit 20+ HR’s in 6 of the 7 seasons between 1997 and 2003. When healthy, Nomar was a dominating hitter and at times, looked like a vacuum cleaner at short. Just when is appeared Nomar was setting himself up for an amazing career, he got bit even harder by the injury bug.

From 2004 on, Nomar could only recover from his numerous leg injuries to have one solid season, 2006 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomar hit .303 with 20 HR’s and 93 RBI’s in 122 games, earning him the Comeback Player of the Year and his 6th All-Star invitation, his only with the National League. The Dodgers were Nomar’s favorite team growing up in Whittier, California, so it was a thrill for him to play in LA.

Fast forward to 2010, Nomar’s body just finally gave up on him and he was forced to make the decision to retire. In professional sports, you rarely see a classy, heart-warming story anymore, but Nomar’s certainly had all the makings of one.

We’ve been fortunate to maintain a relationship over the years after the trade. I think both of us understood at the time that it wasn’t about Nomar and it wasn’t about me. Baseball trades happen. They are about what’s going on with the team at the time, and certain things that had to happen. But it didn’t change what Nomar meant to the Red Sox. It didn’t change that he is a Red Sox. It didn’t change the impact he had where we could contend for and win a World Series.

As Nomar talked about it, I think it meant a lot that our players were calling him on our push to the World Series that year and that they voted him a full share in a ring. He was part of that club and a huge part of the franchise. He’s a Red Sox, and for a long time the Red Sox were Nomar Garciaparra. He really carried us to a point of competitiveness and being one of the teams that had a chance to win the World Series every year. You don’t ultimately win World Series without getting to that point first. Nomar has never held a grudge about that. I never looked at it as something I wanted to do, and I feel personally fortunate that we have been able to maintain a relationship and this day means a lot to me to see Nomar retire as a Red Sox. It wouldn’t be appropriate in any other uniform. – Theo Epstein

As his wife, Mia Hamm, and his two daughters, Grace and Ava, looked on, Nomar ended his career on a high note in the same uniform he put on in 1996. Although his career was not without controversy (Performance Enhancing Drugs rumors), Nomar has always had a place in every Red Sox fan’s heart. He worked hard and played hard and brought smiles to people’s faces with his OCD batting routine, his wild off-balance throws to first and his wonderful tape-job on Pedro Martinez.

The good news is that Nomar will not be leaving the sport he loves behind. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing and seeing Nomar on ESPN during MLB Tonight and select game coverage. Any chance I get to say Nomahhhhhh is an opportunity to relive memories of his early career when it appeared he was on his way to becoming one of the greatest players in baseball history. Although he didn’t reach elite status and does not have the credentials for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, he will always be a Red Sox Hall of Famer in my book.

Tags: 2009 Boston Red Sox ACC Boston Red Sox College World Series Comeback Player Of The Year ESPN Georgia Tech Hall Of Fame Jason Varitek John Wasdin Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Wieters Mia Hamm Milwaukee Brewers Nomar Garciaparra Pedro Martinez Retirement Rookie Of The Year Silver Slugger Theo Epstein

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