After a quick rise up the organizational ladder and a particularly successful stint at Triple-A made his name well-known and the fan base anxious for his arrival, the Red Sox finally opened the door and promoted the hotshot shortstop considered to have superstar potential. A few days ago, that was Xander Bogaerts.
Seventeen years ago, though, it was Nomar Garciaparra -- who wound up hitting just .241 with an on-base percentage of .272 over his introduction to the majors after coming up in late August, but who said Friday that the month he spent at the major-league level in 1996 set him up to succeed in 1997, when he was an All-Star, earned MVP votes, and was the American League Rookie of the Year.
"When I got the call I thought, 'OK, I'm ready for the next level.' Ninety-six was definitely helpful, coming up there and being around that, and playing for that month and getting that experience," Garciaparra said from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., where he's working for ESPN and also helping Subway promote its work with the Challenger Division.
"You can't simulate the speed -- it is another speed going from Triple-A to the big leagues -- and to have an offseason to go out there and put in the time, put in the work, work hard to prepare yourself for the following year, it definitely helped. It was another step that was really good, because when you get to the big leagues you want to stay. You don't want to dwell on the past experiences that got you there; you want to constantly keep your eyes and ears open, and be constantly learning and making progressions while you're there so you can stay there."
Constantly learn and make progressions, he said, but at the same time don't try to do too much. When Garciaparra was promoted and plugged in as the team's starting shortstop for the majority of September, the Sox were 3.5 games back in the wild card race, and as Bogaerts is injected into an even tighter tussle atop the AL East, his 40-year-old predecessor says the best thing he can do to deal with the pressure is simply do things the same way he did while prompting the club to move him from Portland to Pawtucket to a pennant race within the same season.
"He just has to go continue doing what he's doing. That's really it," Garciaparra said. "You don't have to do too much more. It's not about going, 'Now that I'm here I really have to go about changing everything;' just keep doing what you've been doing to get you there, because that's what they've been seeing, that's what they wanted. They recognized it in order to make the call to get you up there. For him, just continue to respect the game, respect your teammates."
The character and composition of those teammates should help Bogaerts, too. "A great thing for him, he's got great veterans there to help him along the way. I was very fortunate that I had great veterans that helped me along the way, as well," Garciaparra said. But ultimately it comes down to ability, and in that regard the .312 career hitter sees what so many do in the guy who may well be the best Sox prospect to reach the bigs since himself.
"He's very talented, there's no question about that," Garciaparra said. "Obviously to make it up there you have to have all the tools -- they don't put you up there if you don't. Now it's just a matter of time. Just go out there and just play; just do everything you've been doing to get to that point. I got to watch him a little bit at the Futures Game in New York this year, and he looked like a great talent out there. I wish him nothing but the best."
And if the best doesn't necessarily show itself right away, be patient. After all, Bogaerts is just 20 years old. That's three years younger than Garciaparra was when he was summoned to The Show -- and merely seven years older than some of the kids Garciaparra has been watching in Williamsport this week.
"The way these kids seem to advance so quickly, I don't know if I marvel at it, it's just that he still has room to grow. I don't have the expectation that he's got to go out there and he's got to be a superstar at 19 or 20," Garciaparra said. "He's got a lot of growing and learning to do and if he's a huge superstar, fantastic. That's what you hope for. You pull for that, but, at the same time, put it in the perspective that there's time for all that.
"It's a credit to his talent and the ability that he has to be brought up so young."
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