A friend called last night to let me know that NESN was televising a game from 1999 in honor of Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement as a Red Sox player. It was a game against the Mariners that my friend and I actually attended together. The reason it’s so memorable is simple: Garciaparra cranked two grand slams that night–something that has never been equalled at Fenway.
It’s easy to forget that it was a different time at Fenway in 1999. While the grand old park would be celebrated as the host of that year’s All-Star Game, the stands were only sparsely populated on that particular night–in fact, the NESN broadcast clearly shows that most of right field was a vacant wasteland of empty seats.
Nomar stepped into the box in the first inning with the bases juiced. The infamous glove, toe-tap ritual was a sight for sore eyes. He was in his prime. He would end up hitting .357 that year. The next year, he was even better–.372. He was a hitting machine.
When he carved an opposite field line drive into the right field bullpen, it reminded me of how pure a hitter he was. Not a patient hitter, but an accomplished one. Terry Francona, who managed Nomar in the Arizona Fall League, noted that he could slash to all fields even way back then.
Had he stayed healthy and a member of the Red Sox, I have no doubt he would be Cooperstown-bound in 5 years. As it is, he will always be the young, aggressive, athletic superstar we all pinned our hopes on in the late nineties. Nomar Garicaparra was the Red Sox then, and he always will be.
The adulation showered on Nomar Garciaparra on Monday night at Fenway Park says a lot about the gulf between the Red Sox fan base and the mainstream sports media in Boston.