On a night drenched in honey-gold sunset at Fenway Park, a familiar figure crossed the warning track, in a white jersey with a scarlet number 5 on the back.
Am I being manipulated as a fan, for whatever reason? I guess. Is the whole thing a little awkward, like seeing an ex while out somewhere, and making polite conversation even as you remember how bitterly things ended? Sure.
And honestly, I thought I was over it. I really thought I was over the schmaltz of welcoming Nomar back, when trading him was what led to the championship in 2004.
The thing that made the whole Nomar situation so painful was the lack of closure. The last time we saw him, he was walking out of the clubhouse in Minnesota in that white dress shirt. The next time, he was in an Oakland uniform, and by then it was all water under the bridge. The fans of Fenway never had a chance to know they were embracing Nomar for the last time. We can try to re-create that moment, and have in the years since, but it won't ever be quite the same.
And it wasn't just Nomar, it was Trot, it was Wake and Tek, it was all those guys of approx. 2003 - 2004 back together again on the field. We'll never go through what we went through with those players again, and I suspect those faces will always have direct access to my heartstrings. And I guess tonight stirred all that up. Which was probably the idea. Sigh.
Dustin Pedroia continues to fling himself around the field like his ass is on fire. And like his teammates' asses are on fire, and he's launching himself over there to single-handedly save the day. He's just a ball of furious, relentless energy, and I absolutely adore him.
John Lackey was brilliant tonight, surrendering just one run against his former team.
David Ortiz hit an opposite-field home run that was greeted with an audible gasp from the crowd, followed by a thundering standing ovation.
Daniel Bard was FILTHY.
Adrian Beltre hit a bomba gigante to dead center, his second homer in three nights and made a nifty play at third. Scooter made another nice pick at short.
Also, vintage Papelbon was in the house tonight.
I really, really hope May is going to be "The Red Sox Make Us All Look Like Assholes for Ever Worrying" Month.
In good times and bad, Garciaparra
was unnecessarily difficult in all interactions with the media. It made
no sense, given the fawning coverage he received (and deserved) for the
first seven years of his career. Fans needn’t care which players give
good sound bites, but no one was more unhappy than Nomar, and it
infected the workplace.
forgiving of the Sox to bring him back, but there’s no need to reinvent
history in the process. Sox fans are too smart. It’s insulting for
Epstein, Lucchino, and Garciaparra to insist that this relationship has
always been good.
yesterday’s sorry spirit of disingenuousness and hypocrisy, Garciaparra
announced that he has taken a job with ESPN. This makes him a member of
the media, which is like Sarah Palin telling us she is going to be
chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
is the one who had a red stripe put down in front of lockers in the Sox
clubhouse. Woe was the scribe who crossed Nomar’s line of death. Now he
is a credential-wearing media guy, groveling for free food, Marriott
points, and a few seconds with 20-year-old Casey Kelly.
While I still find Shaughnessy easily as disingenuous and, what was it, "unnecessarily difficult"? as Nomar ("I hate to be the fly in the punch bowl here," he writes before laying into Garciaparra with all the venom in his pen -- my ass, you do), at least when it comes to his announcement he plans to work for ESPN, I admit my eyebrows were raised.
And while it was easy to get caught up in the sentimentality of yesterday -- I maintain most of us were thinking not of Nomar and his potential hypocrisy but of ourselves, our emotions about him in 2004 (and let's not forget, five years ago, today's 18-year-old "adults" were 12 and 13 year old kids), where we were when we heard he was traded, waxing nostalgic about how things used to be -- I also found myself Tweeting, "Fame's no longer such a burden when it's gone, eh, No. 5."
While, as I said, no Sox uniform has been heavier than the one Nomar wore, and no post-World Series star will ever know the kind of pressure he was under, it is true that his exit was messy, he was a bitter pill for most of that last year, and Shaughnessy knows better than I how he was with press in the clubhouse. Plenty of players might snub Shaughnessy himself, but I've heard about that red line before, and something like that doesn't discriminate between hacks and noble scribes. Something like that says, get away from me, all of you. ALL of you.
If you want to know the truth, if I had to assess Nomar's mental state right now, it would be, to quote the old hair band tune, "You Don't Know What You've Got Till it's Gone." I believe he has regrets, about the way he acted, about what he didn't know, about how the rest of his career has turned out. He went from a god in this town, an icon, to a utility guy in the National League. He's had his fill of his antisocial solitude -- and, I believe, has realized just how careful you should be about what you wish for. And yes, he now has to figure out a new way to make a living.
It did make me chuckle, hearing Nomar look back with such fondness on his time with the Red Sox -- and it is, of course, a reversal of his attitude when he walked out of that clubhouse in Minnesota in July 2004.
"It’s downright fraudulent to deny or ignore how bad this relationship was at the end," Shaughnessy harps.
But I don't know that anyone's denying or ignoring, is the thing, at least among those of us out here in the peanut gallery, whom the CHB, as always, completely underestimates. And I wonder, what's the harm in this forgiveness? What does it cost us, if we all acknowledge that once upon a time, what was between us and this player was nothing short of a love affair? What's the harm in this fleeting acknowledgment for a player who, in the end, will probably neither see his number retired or his face on a plaque in Cooperstown? Should we really let him retire from the game without even a tiny nod to what he once meant to the team and the town? And if so, for what purpose?
Shaughnessy looks at Nomar and sees a certain manipulativeness, which I can't necessarily argue with. He looks at yesterday's sentimentality and sees cheesiness, which I also can't totally deny. But where he's wrong is when he looks at the fans who embraced him yesterday as naive, stupid and / or in denial. What we're doing, that Shaughnessy can't or won't, is acknowledging how good it was once, how badly it ended, appreciating the closure...and moving on.
In 2003, I was working at a job I hated. I had grown up a Red Sox fan, but left sports aside once I entered high school -- I was more interested in other things at the time. In 2003, newly out of college, alone and adrift in the "real world" for the first time, I found myself desperate for belonging, identity, to be part of something again. Everything once the milestones of college were past seemed so open-ended, directionless, for a time.
That's when I returned to the Red Sox -- the "Cowboy Up" spirit of that year changed that sense of emptiness, replaced it with intrigue and joy and heartbreak and that sense that I belonged somewhere -- Boston, Fenway, among fellow local natives, united for a collective cause.
And Nomar Garciaparra was at the heart of it.
At this job I hated, I kept a picture right within my sight line when I glanced up from the computer screen, of Manny sliding into home plate in that year's ALDS against Oakland, while Kevin Millar stepped in and behind him on deck, Nomar cheered, both fists in the air, completely given over to the moment. The background was filled with the raised fists and cheering faces of Red Sox fans, virtually identical to Nomar's.
He was the symbol of the team at a time when everything felt so much more urgent, so much more desperate, and those moments of joy were taken not with triumph but with hunger, yearning for the next step. He was the face of the Sox in Boston when there was so much more pressure riding on them, so many more Calvinistic clouds of self-doubt hanging over our shortstop as he adjusted his gloves and tapped his toes at the plate. The Sox uniform he wore was heavier than any that has come since.
When the bombshell trade happened in 2004 -- in retrospect the turning point of the season, but at the time, like losing a friend -- I wrote:
I got in the car, turned the key in the ignition, and the radio lit
up. The AM 850 frequency came in over the speakers. And in that single
instant, the world changed for good.
"They are reporting that it has happened, the trade has happened,"
John Wollack said in a grave tone. I immediately assumed that it was
Randy Johnson to the Yankees, a momentary blow, and I was coming to
acceptance when he clarified: "Nomar to the Chicago Cubs."
[...] Nomar to the Chicago Cubs. Why not send Old Ironsides
out there, too, to float in Lake Michigan? Why not uproot the Old North
Church and re-plant it in the Windy City?
Nomar wasn't happy. We knew with almost 90% assurance that he was
going to walk at the end of the season. We know that it's only smart
management, and the earnest efforts of the organization to do what's
best for our team, and our city, that have led them to make this
decision. We know that, as an 'EEI caller put it, "We're going to root
for the uniform, and not the player, no matter what."
But, still. Tonight, Nomar Garciaparra, one of the few human beings
ever to become a Boston landmark, will put on another uniform. And we,
the fans of Boston who have loved him so dearly, won't ever get the
chance to say goodbye.
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