Nomar relishes his night at Fenway Park
Former Red Sox star shortstop happy to be 'back home'
BOSTON -- While a retirement ceremony is often used as a means for a player to say goodbye to a fan base and vice versa, Wednesday's moment for former Red Sox icon Nomar Garciaparra was quite the opposite.
He is no longer a Chicago Cub or a Los Angeles Dodger or an Oakland Athletic. Garciaparra, fresh off signing a one-day contract back in March so he could retire in a Boston uniform, was honored by his original team before Wednesday night's Red Sox-Angels game at Fenway Park.
"I don't know if it's closure or [it] opens even more," Garciaparra said. "You might say it's closure to a playing career, but the door is open because I feel like I'm back home."
Garciaparra walked on to the Fenway field wearing a home white Red Sox jersey with the familiar No. 5 on the back.
Several of his former teammates joined him for the ceremony, including still-active players Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. The alumni was represented by Trot Nixon, who got a loud ovation, Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni. The Red Sox's ownership trio of John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino were also on hand. So, too, were Garciaparra's parents, wife Mia and two daughters.
Garciaparra also had a warm moment with Johnny Pesky, the legendary club ambassador who has been associated with the Red Sox since his days as a shortstop playing on the same team as Ted Williams.
The two-time batting champion and six-time All-Star had his day with the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., back in Spring Training when he announced his retirement, but being back in Boston brought it to another level.
"Now I'm retiring as a Boston Red Sox, so it never leaves you," Garciaparra said. "It's always been one of the biggest parts of my heart -- this organization and this uniform. So that gets to stay with me forever. Because of this uniform, because of this organization, I got to have dinner with 40 people [on Tuesday night] that I hadn't seen in so long and it felt like I never left, and it's special.
"When you really look at it, that's what you want. You want to be able to go out there. We play this game, it's a wonderful game, but to have those relationships and build those relationships and experience that -- that's what makes the game special."
Instead of the usual soft-toss first pitch, Garciaparra went out to shortstop, rubbed some dirt on his hand, then went to the third-base side of the mound and made one of his signature off-balanced, side-arm throws to the plate, where Varitek was standing with a glove.
During Garciaparra's years (1996-04) with the Red Sox, he sprayed a barrage of hits around Fenway, all set up by his unique batting stance that included repetitive toe taps and wrist tugs. Back in those says, his stance was imitated on Little League fields all over New England.
"It's funny," said Garciaparra. "When I actually explain, it's kind of boring. Everybody's like, really, that was it'? I liked everything just tight. It started with my feet. So because of the toes, I like my toes at the end of my shoes, just to get them nice and tight, just that feeling before I exerted any energy. So that's why I was tapping my toes. There's no set number.
"I wasn't thinking; I was just doing. It was just more feeling. I played this game on feeling. Now I had something on my hands, so the same thing. I had to have my fingers at the end of my gloves, like if I had shoes on my toes. Same feeling. I was really just pulling them down to get my fingers toward the end of the glove. So I don't know how many times. I was thinking more about probably the next pitch or the pitcher, what I was going to do at the at bat as I was doing that. It was just a feel."
While fans might remember his pair of three-homer games or the day he came back from an extended wrist injury by producing a game-tying homer and a go-ahead hit, Garciaparra reflects more on the entire block of time than isolated moments.
"Gosh, there are so many -- from the All-Star game in '99 to the great people, Johnny Pesky, Ted Williams, Mo Vaughn, all these guys that I became such close friends with that collectively represent what the Boston organization is all about," said Garciaparra. "The winning, the joys with the team, the tears with the team, your teammates throughout all that. I mean, those are the experiences I think about. I don't think about individual stuff. I think if you guys know me by now, it's really not about that, it's always about the experience I got to have with these guys on the field on a daily basis."
Fittingly, his night took place on Cinco de Mayo. Garciaparra is of Mexican descent.
"Isn't that appropriate? Isn't that perfect? I guess they said, 'What day? We have Cinco de Mayo open.' I'm like, 'Do you have to ask about another day?' Isn't it pretty much appropriate? I'm excited about that," Garciaparra said.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.