Like most men, I grew up playing baseball and now 2-3 times a week I strap on the cleats and play softball. I never had great power, just a base hitter….but I always could (and still can) catch anything you throw at me. I always liked players that were not natural athletes; Pete Rose, Ryne Sandberg, George Brett….those guys were my childhood heroes. I always played shortstop or second base, because the coach knew I could catch the ball and throw that runner out. So those middle infielders were always my favorites. Enter Nomar Garciaparra.
I remember back in the mid-1990’s seeing highlights of this guy in Boston that was just tearing the league up. He was a rookie, but around my age. I started paying more attention to how this guy I only knew as ‘Nomar’ was doing. Nomar always seemed to have a smile on his face. He always looked like he was having fun while being one of the best in the game. How many ballplayers are only known by their first name? Nomar took over Boston and some Red Sox fans will tell you he became more popular than Ted Williams….amazing!
Nomar could hit like no other shortstop I had ever seen (at the time), he had a rocket for an arm and a very good glove. I started paying more and more attention to the Red Sox and Nomar. To add insult to injury, I actually started rooting for the Red Sox. A Cubs and Red Sox fan, what was I thinking? But Nomar made me want to watch. He became my favorite player since Ryne Sandberg.
I remember hearing the rumor about the Cubs interest in trading for Nomar and I could not believe it. I can remember calling my wife and sounding like a ten-year-old kid. How could my favorite player end up in Chicago? I remember that weekend, I was on vacation in the Michigan area and a report came across WGN that the Cubs had made the deal for Nomar. Sunday’s game was supposed to be about Greg Maddux going for win number 300, but it became all about Nomar.
There was no way I could get tickets or make it to Chicago to see Nomar make his Cub debut, but like so many others I was glued to the TV at the dismay of my wife. The first day of vacation and I was watching the Cubs. The crowd was amazing and greeted Nomar with such excitement. I actually thought he could push that injured plagued team over the top.
The one thing that caught my eye about that day was Nomar was wearing number 8. Number 8, how could this be? Well apparently Nomar and Michael Barrett worked it out and later in the week, good ole number 5 was at shortstop for the Cubs. I even tried to go to a sports store in the Chicago area the following weekend and buy a Nomar jersey and they were not available yet. I was able to see Nomar with the Cubs in Cincinnati later in the year and it was great to see him in person in Cubbie Blue.
We all know the Cubs fell short in 2004 and I had doubts that Nomar would return to the Cubs for the 2005 season. To my surprise he did and I thought I would have another season to watch my favorite player with my favorite team. I did get a chance to see him in Spring Training and he even hit a home run. A HOMAR for Nomar. Last spring was the best Nomar played as a Cub and when he came back in August, he proved he could still hit but the glove was not the same and the position was definitely different.
I wish the Cubs could have given Nomar Garciaparra one more chance in Cubbie Blue. I feel like we never got to see Nomar play, we just got Nomar. He is an extremely talented athlete and according to all reports I have read a good person as well.
There have been a lot of players over the years that have worn the number 5 for the Chicago Cubs, but there will never be another Nomar Garciaparra.