My college days in New England overlapped with a large chunk of the salad days of the now-retired Nomar Garciaparra. I was surrounded by Red Sawks (and Yanks) fans for those years, and Nomar was the calling card of the pre-championship Sox. I learned, in time, to enjoy the company of these psychopaths, and I built up even an affinity for their ways, and that meant appreciating their devotion to their shortstop.
The reason, I think, that there’s such a national fascination with and disdain for Red Sox fans is that they are capable of creating a gunpowder fervor that is rare with many other fan bases. It can go either way: elation runs deep, and dissatisfaction festers and boils as hard a blood feud.
Nomar fueled the former, the celebratory side of the Sox fan’s dichotomy. He made Red Sox fans happy, and in those days it was a tonic against the since-evaporated angst: like a happy smile from a colicky baby. The cries of Nomah! that have since fallen into cliche were revelatory in their joy, coming from such a sad bastard people.
I was sure that Nomar Garciaparra would play his way into the Hall of Fame. A premier player in a big-time baseball city, one leg of the beloved ARod-Jeter-Nomar trifecta. I graduated from college in 2002, then left Vermont in 2003. In those years he was his usual great hitting self, with upper 20s home runs, over .300 average, etc.
Then I left, returning to the placid Houson Astros fan base. Next thing I know, Nomar is traded away, to the Cubs. A precipitous fall, it seemed to me, disentangled as I was from the daily churn of news and gossip in Red Sox Nation. Life teaches you, in small ways, that if you look away for a minute, something’s likely to change.
The Baseball-Reference blog tracked Nomar’s early potential, pointing out that through his age 29 year, the shortstop was among the best of all time. I am 29-years-old. Probably unrelated, but these things come to mind when an inconic player moves on. One’s own movings on. From some place to another place, for some reason or another, with varying levels of success and failure. Ballplayers start to mark off the autobiographical eras. Of the recent retirements, Frank Thomas marks my middle school days, and Nomar college.
Good on Nomar for making it to the top, even if his stay was shorter than some baseball romantics would have liked. The romantics want more than they should, and when they get it, they rarely know what, even, to do with it. Some even think that Nomar should make it to the hall. Not I, though. Some climbers don’t make it to the top, no matter how fast they make it to base camp one.