Spring thaw is felt
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MALDEN -- Funny place for a meeting of two power brokers who may influence the direction of the Red Sox for years to come. Flanked on one side by a shoe rental counter and on the other by coin-operated arcade games, the franchise's principal owner, John W. Henry, chatted cordially for a few minutes last night with Nomar Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, in the lobby of the Town Line Ten Pin bowling alley.
Never mind that it hardly resembled the Paris Peace Talks. Five months earlier, Henry and Tellem engaged in a bitter, public dispute that raised serious questions about Garciaparra's future with the Sox. Yesterday's meeting was a sign that both parties harbor at least some hope that the All-Star shortstop's days in Boston may not be numbered after all.
"I know both sides would like him to stay, and I believe in the end that's what will happen," Tellem said as Governor Mitt Romney prepared to join an array of sports stars and assorted glitterati -- from Ben Affleck to the Coors Light Twins -- in kicking off Garciaparra's fifth and final Nomar Bowl fund-raiser.
Henry and Tellem have not discussed Garciaparra's future since spring training, but Henry said the team remains open to talking and recognizes that the value of the two-time batting champion extends beyond his contributions on the field.
"When he steps to the plate, you know there is no one who has more of the heart of New England than Nomar Garciaparra," Henry said. "You just hear it in the ballpark, every game, every at-bat."
Both Tellem and Garciaparra indicated in December that they were livid to learn through the media how deeply the Sox were involved in trying to move the shortstop so they could acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers in exchange for Manny Ramirez. But Henry, who in December accused Tellem of engaging in "the height of hypocrisy" by calling the Sox "a bit disingenuous," said that the sides have made peace.
"We apologized to each other several months ago for getting upset," Henry said. "You're going to get upset once in a while, but no one should get upset in public with each other."
Said Tellem, "I echo his comments. It's all behind us."
Garciaparra made it clear when he arrived for spring training that he remained peeved at how Sox executives handled the A-Rod situation. But while Garciaparra focused last night on coordinating an event that could help push his foundation's charitable contributions to the community above $1 million, Tellem suggested the shortstop largely has overcome the episode.
"All I can say is, wounds heal," Tellem said, "and it's behind us."
What's more, Tellem said, "[Garciaparra] absolutely wants to stay here. I personally would like to see him stay here, and you can see from the outpouring here, everyone wants him to stay here."
More than a year ago, Garciaparra rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the Sox, believing the team would continue negotiating and perhaps split the difference between his request for a four-year, $68 million deal. But the Sox made their next offer after last season, a four-year, $48 million proposal that reflected their sense that the market had changed. There has been little progress since, though Tellem indicated he welcomes renewing talks.
"There's plenty of time to get a deal done," he said. "It's not what matters in May. It's what happens in September, October, November."
Affleck and Romney may not be political soul mates, but they were united in their desire to keep Garciaparra in Boston.
"Whatever it takes," Affleck said, describing Garciaparra as "the best shortstop in the game, bar none."
Romney praised Garciaparra's charitable work. The foundation has supported numerous programs benefiting sick and needy children, and proceeds from this year's event are earmarked for the Devon Nicole House for families with patients at Children's Hospital, the Cradles to Crayons program that collects and distributes children's items, the City Year national service program, the Salesian Boys & Girls Club of East Boston, and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness.
"What a great hero in this community, not just on the ballfield but in the way he makes a difference to our entire state and our community," Romney said.
Romney joked that it may not be practical for him to draft legislation to keep Garciaparra in Boston because "most of what I draft gets turned down.
"But I'll see if I can get my friend [House Speaker] Tommy Finneran and [Senate] President [Robert] Travaglini to see if they can't do something. And I'll be happy to sign it to make sure Nomar stays here indefinitely."
The Sox were well-represented at the event, with general manager Theo Epstein heading a contingent that included manager Terry Francona, the coaching staff, and most of the players. Members of the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, and Revolution also joined hundreds of corporate and individual donors who participated in the bowling tournament. Many also participated in auctions on items ranging from autographed gloves and jerseys to a dinner and wine tasting with Garciaparra, Ray Bourque, and Troy Brown.
Garciaparra said he plans to end the tradition of the Nomar Bowl mainly because it's No. 5, like his uniform number and the number of values his foundation recognizes, and not because he believes he will play elsewhere next year. But even if he does go elsewhere, he plans to maintain his ties to the community.
"I have baseball camps that I run in the winter, and I still envision doing those," he said. "If people want me back to do my baseball camps, I love it there. They've embraced me, and it's one small way I can embrace them back and show them how much I truly do appreciate everybody here in the city."
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