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JOAN VENNOCHI

The heart and soul of Nomar

SURE, ALEX Rodriguez would look sweet in a Red Sox uniform. But it still would be sad to bid goodbye to Nomar Garciaparra.

 

The complicated deal to bring Rodriguez to Boston may yet fall through. Yesterday, the players union rejected the Sox' restructuring proposal, and the baseball commissioner said the deal must be finalized today. Dazzled by A-Rod's statistics and marketing sizzle, much of Red Sox Nation seems ready to toss Garciaparra away like a broken bat. But the shortstop should know that whatever happens some fans appreciate everything he brings to the game.

Nomar has strength, character, and lovable quirks. His ritualistic adjustment of batting gloves followed by the tapping of his batting helmet can get annoying when they don't yield desired results, such as a game-winning home run. But they fall into the best tradition of baseball, a game of ritual, superstition, and -- as Red Sox fans well know -- curses.

As a baseball player, Garciaparra is many things, including a good role model for teenage boys. He always works out during the off-season, and from spring training forward he comes to work ready to compete and give it his best. He may sulk with the press. But on the field, he takes his slumps like a man, not a little boy.

For young female fans, Nomar seems like the no-nonsense big brother you can rely on to protect you when life gets tough. Garciaparra doesn't have Derek Jeter's sleek sexiness, but he has something better: Mia Hamm. She is a champion athlete in her own right and an inspiration to soccer players everywhere, especially to legions of young girls with bouncing ponytails. Last fall's criticism that Garciaparra was concentrating too much on his upcoming wedding to Hamm and not enough on the playoffs was one of the more ridiculous complaints from ever-fickle Red Sox fans.

He wants to win a World Series, of that there is no doubt. It is bizarre that he may leave Boston because of another player's lack of passion. Manny Ramirez is the player who needs an attitude adjustment. To get Ramirez out of the Sox lineup, management is willing to send Garciaparra on his way, too.

Baseball is absolutely a game that meshes best with statistics. But it's also about heart and soul. Who has more of both than Nomar Garciaparra? What Red Sox player came to Yawkey Way with more passion for the game and this sports-crazed community?

Statistics are impressive, but from the moment Alex Rodriguez sets foot in Boston the past becomes irrelevant. He will learn that fast enough in the pressure cooker that is Boston baseball.

Their postseason moves suggest that the Red Sox owners are feeling the heat themselves. Exhorting the faithful to "cowboy up" did not result in a trip to the World Series. So now they are tossing the cowboys and taking apart the team that could not get past the New York Yankees. What a player may have learned from that experience is unimportant. Character and perseverance are tossed in favor of statistics. The quick fix is preferable to the long-range investment.

Red Sox fans long for a World Series championship. They are tired of waiting for next year. Being in the hunt is no longer enough, and the new owners are determined to deliver. To that end, they are assembling a new team of immense talent and force, at least on paper.

But in baseball, the final test is never on paper. It is on the field, on the pitcher's mound, in the batter's box. The player who emerged as hero for the New York Yankees in the gut-wrenching Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox was Aaron Boone. The Yankees acquired Boone July 31. In 54 games with New York during the regular season, he hit .254, with six homers and 31 RBIs. In the first six games of the series with Boston, Boone hit .125, with two hits in 16 at-bats. He was hitless in the series against Tim Wakefield, until he stepped up to bat against him at the top of the 11th inning in Yankee Stadium, with the game tied 5-5. Then something happened that can never be explained or predicted by numbers alone.

At that moment in time, heart, soul, passion, and luck lifted the ball into the left-field stands.

Just like Garciaparra or any other player, Rodriguez would need all of that to win in Boston. His tremendous talent and past stellar performance are cause for optimism but no guarantee of success.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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