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Five questions with Nomar Garciaparra

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 12, 2012 12:53 PM

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Yep, you've got a point. I suppose the last name probably isn't necessary in the headline there.

There's only one Nomar, and the former Red Sox shortstop is back in a familiar neighborhood, serving as an analyst for ESPN's "Wednesday Night Baseball'' telecast of a Red Sox-Yankees game that isn't as meaningful to the home team as it seemed it would be when the schedule was released.

But Garciaparra, who will be joined by Dave O'Brien and Curt Schilling in the Sox-centric booth, told me Wednesday morning that it is always a thrill for him to return to Boston, where he played from late 1996 to until his shocking trade to the Cubs in midsummer 2004.

"I retired a Red Sox for a reason,'' he said. "It's always in my heart. This is where I came up, and the fans always have embraced me, I always feel at home when I'm here."

Garciaparra, famously wary of the media during his last days in Boston, couldn't have been more gracious and engaging Wednesday. Here are some of his other thoughts in response to TATB's Five Questions:

1. Playing games that don't have much at stake this time of year is not something you had to deal with with while you were with the Red Sox. This will actually be the franchise's first losing year since you were a rookie in 1997. But when you did have to deal with this, did you have to make a conscious effort to remain fully engaged? I mean, the Red Sox seemed to enjoy playing the role of spoiler Tuesday, but it can't be that fulfilling, can it?

Nomar: "It's funny, that's an interesting question, because I have been very fortunate. As a rookie, I can tell you I wasn't even thinking about that, because you're a rookie, and you're trying to establish yourself in the big leagues and prove you belong every time you go out there. With the Red Sox, we were always in the hunt. Maybe you'd be out of it a week or so at the end of the season after you were eliminated. Even going over to the National League with the Cubs and Dodgers, I was pretty lucky and fortunate. The only time after that was really my last year in Oakland [the A's went 75-87 in 2009] when we knew we were out of it this time of year.

"But there's a sense of pride you have as a player. I remember people saying then, 'Well, we could be the spoiler,' but I never needed any of that. I had my drive every single day to go out there and play as hard as I could. That was my mentality, I'm winning that day. That day, regardless of who we were playing against or what our record was, we were going to win.

"It's always better when you're playing for the playoffs or there's a major goal in front of you, you're trying to get somewhere. There's no question. That helps you get through the aches and pains that accumulate for everyone over the season, to be playing for something. But you've still got to go out there and compete. You've still got to go out there and try to win every single day. Every single day. That doesn't change. That's a mentality that athletes have to have. I don't think you can get to the major league level without having it, actually. If I play you at ping-pong or checkers or whatever it is, I'm going to try to beat you."

2. I like my chances better at checkers. Looking back at that '97 team, which went 78-84, you guys had a stacked lineup, seven or eight guys over .300, but the pitching let you down. That was remedied pretty fast with the Pedro deal and you turned it around the next year and made the playoffs. Looking at this Red Sox team, it seems like it's going to take a much longer process. Have you had a chance to look at them and consider where they should go from here?

Nomar: "I have, and I think the most important thing is that there needs to be a cohesive message coming from the top, you know what I mean? It's not just the players. I think that right now, ownership, management, all the way down, it doesn't seem like they're on the same page, and when they have a cohesive message and are working properly together, that carries all the way down to the players.

"I do think the huge trade [with the Dodgers], pretty much unprecedented in history from what I understand, is something that really helps them get on with the process. It should benefit both sides, though the Dodgers are still having trouble scoring runs. But it frees up all of that money for the Red Sox. Right now, they're in kind of a crisis -- I don't know if crisis is the right word, but there's something at the top that's not functioning properly, and they all have to get together and regroup and say, 'What are we going to do and what is our message and approach?' It's always easier, as a corporation, a baseball team, whatever, to begin progressing forward when you have the financial flexibility to do so. At the least, they've put themselves in that position. Now they're gathering themselves and saying, 'How do we right this ship?' So I think it was a good move in that sense.

"But the Dodgers really got some quality players. Adrian Gonzalez had his struggles this year with the Boston Red Sox, but he's a guy who you almost always talk about as an MVP candidate, a contender. He's still a great player, and I think Carl Crawford will be a little bit better over with the Dodgers than he was in Boston. At the least, the bigger outfield will play to his strengths. You'll see that athleticism displayed again, and a little different environment might help him.''

Thumbnail image for nomaras912.jpg3. There are some pretty interesting parallels between your career here and Dustin Pedroia's. You debuted 10 years apart, both won Rookie of the Year awards, he won the MVP in his second year and you were the runner-up in yours, both of you were wildly popular with the fans almost from the beginning. Yet it wasn't perfect. You both had to deal with some pretty significant injuries, and you ran into difficulties in terms of perception in your last days here that bear some similarity to issues Pedroia has dealt with this year. You ended up getting traded. Pedroia has made it clear he doesn't want to go anywhere. Is there any advice you'd give him on how to deal with everything that comes with playing in Boston?

Nomar: "My advice to him is just to focus on what you can control. And what you can control is going out there, playing your game, playing hard like he always does, and keep doing all of the things that made him successful in the first place. Playing the game the right way, playing it hard, running it out, and whatever people are saying, don't worry about it, because you can't control that. I know that sometimes maybe I did let it get to me too much from time to time, and I learned from that. What people say doesn't change who you are, and it shouldn't change how you go about your business or your approach to playing the game. Regardless of what's being said on the outside, the guys on the inside know what's really going on that, you're playing hard, maybe you're playing through pain, and you're giving it everything you have."

4. It's kind of strange to be talking to you about these games that really have stakes only for the Yankees, since the primary recollection of you is as such central a figure during arguably the pinnacle of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, that incredibly intense stretch that began in 1998. So I have to take the opportunity to ask you about one particular game from that era -- Pedro's 17-strikeout, 1-hit masterpiece at Yankees Stadium that took place 13 years ago yesterday. Does it seem that long ago, and was that the best-pitched game you ever witnessed?

Nomar: "No, it really doesn't, and I'm lucky that I remember games like that so vividly. There were two pitching performances that I was on the field for that were really incredible -- that one, and when Roger [Clemens] struck out 20 in Detroit right after I first came up in '96. I tell you, what really stood out from Pedro's performance, other than that he probably had the three best pitches you could ever imagine working for him that night, is that when he came off the mound, the fans at Yankee Stadium gave him a standing ovation. I think that says it all. As bitter as the rivalry was then, there was still a respect that goes with it, and the fans showed him that that night. It was an appreciation of his performance. It goes without saying we didn't usually get that kind of reaction at Yankee Stadium at that point in time."

5. Sort of an interesting dynamic in the booth for Wednesday's game, with three people who have significant Red Sox ties in you, Curt Schilling, and Dave O'Brien on the play by play. Should we expect that the three of you will delve into the Red Sox issues maybe a little more than we might expect typically, and more important, do you have assurances that Schilling will let you get a word in edgewise?

Nomar: [Laughing] "Yeah, I think we'll probably dig into the Sox, the depth of it probably depending on how the game is going. As far as Schill goes, we'll find out. You'll just have to stay tuned for that to see how it all plays out.''

And because it just seems appropriate, a bonus sixth question, in honor of No. 6, Nomar's mentor of sorts and fellow legendary Red Sox shortstop, the late Johnny Pesky ...

6. The Red Sox announced today that they'll pay another tribute to Johnny with a ceremony before their game September 23. Your bond with him was well-known when you played here. Can you speak to what he meant to you personally?

Nomar: "He was a special man, a special person. My roots are in Southern California and that's where I grew up, and I didn't know much about the Boston Red Sox. It was Johnny who took me in and taught me what it meant to put that uniform on, what the tradition was about. That meant the world to me. And from there, we just had this incredible bond together that so special, just talking about baseball, and telling stories about Ted [Williams] and some of the guys he played with, or just always being there. It didn't matter if you were big leaguer, a minor leaguer, he was there for you, and he was that guy my entire career here that I knew I could talk to. He meant a lot to me, and he meant a lot to a lot of other people as well. He's missed. Baseball lost a great man, a great ambassador, and for a lot of us, a great friend.''

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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