Nomar Garciaparra came along at a great time to be a young shortstop. He won AL Rookie of the Year with the Boston Red Sox in 1997, a year after Derek Jeter won the award and Alex Rodriguez finished second in AL MVP voting as a 20-year-old. Garciaparra won two batting titles and made five more All-Star teams in subsequent seasons, but injuries — including a nasty split tendon in his wrist in 2001 — limited his greatness in the years to come.
But that's not the end of his story, of course. He married soccer icon Mia Hamm in 2003 and they have three kids. Garciaparra also has transitioned into TV analyst for ESPN, where he calls games from the majors to the Little League World Series. Before a big weekend at Williamsport, Pa., Garciaparra took time in an Answer Man session to discuss all of it.
David Brown: Did any of your Little League teams ever get close to Williamsport?
Nomar Garciaparra: No. For me, I actually played in a different district in a park that was closer to my house. So none of the teams that I was ever on made it this far. But it's also fun to follow any teams from your area — hometown, state, whatever it may be — and watch these kids make their run.
DB: How did you get involved with this Subway and Challenger Division program?
Nomar: Because I think the Challenger Division of Little League is just incredible. It helps developmentally and physically challenged kids go out there and play this wonderful game. It includes a "buddy," another person that actually helps these kids play the game. It's an amazing, amazing thing. And this weekend at the Little League World Series during the Challenger Division Game, Subway is going to unveil the winners of the Buddy Badge contest. It's a great promotion just to bring awareness of this program of this other division. People might not even be aware that the Challenger Division exists. But it brings a lot of smiles to the faces of the kids who play it and warms so many people's hearts.
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DB: It sounds like you're having as much fun with the kids from the Challenger Division as the Little Leaguers you're analyzing on ESPN.
Nomar: I was lucky yesterday covering a game, then I was on the set doing "Sports Center" talking about the Little League World Series and afterward I'm signing autographs and taking pictures. And this young man — his name was Noah — and comes up to me telling me how excited he is, because he's going to play in the game on Saturday, and he's pointing at the stadium. He's telling me the position he plays. We probably talked for 20 minutes and his parents are telling me, "Thank you for taking the time" and I'm like, "Thank you for allowing me. This just made my day, just sitting here talking to Noah." Hearing the excitement in his voice and seeing it in his face. It takes wonderful people to make sure that continues.
DB: Has your batting glove ritual carried over into your retired life? Are you always fiddling with something?
Nomar: No. That only happened when I played baseball. When baseball was done, in the offseason, I didn't do any of that. I don't think my wife could put up with me if I continued doing all that [laughs] away from the baseball field. And I don't have any of that when I go out and broadcast a game.
DB: What is "Garciaparra" backward?
Nomar: Arrapaicrag. Right [laughs]? I was ready for that. I've definitely been asked that before.
DB: I covered the Cubs in 2004 when you were traded to Chicago. One of my memories of you with the Cubs was how polite you were. Is that a credit to your mom and dad? Or was it from media training?
Nomar: No media training. There is media training? You've got to sign me up for that, please. No, that's obviously because of my parents. They were incredible.
DB: Are you familiar with the Zooperstars, the minor-league mascots who use puns of major leaguer names to create inflatable animal characters? What do you think of Mia Hammster and Nomar Garciaparrot?
Nomar: Oh, yeah, it's fun. You know, that's when you know you've made it. People ask me, "How you do you know?" When you have a Zooperstar named after you. That's how you know.
DB: Some people might say that Mia is the best athlete in the family, but I can't see how that assumption would sit well with you.
Nomar: Well, I can say they're wrong — especially when she's not sitting next to me or anywhere around. So I can definitely say she's not. And you know what? I can probably get into a good argument with my younger brother that he's the best athlete as well. And my sisters might say the same. So there's definitely an ongoing debate. And you can be sure, at family functions, humorous things go on. Whether it's a ping-pong match, or whatever, competitive events go on to see who's really the best at that moment. Sometimes the title goes from person to person, but usually by the end of the day the title is sitting on my lap, no question.
DB: Do you realize that, if you had taken your wife's last name, your name would sound like "No More Ham"?
Nomar: I actually did think about taking her name because it's a whole lot easier to write on a baseball than "Garciaparra." I could sign twice as many autographs that way. But, then we thought about it and my wife was against that, so you're right.
DB: After coming out of the gate with twin girls five years ago, do you feel like you know what you're doing now with the 7-month-old boy?
Nomar: I think ... I mean, do you ever really know what you're doing as a parent? They don't really give you a manual when you leave the hospital. That's what I was looking for. All they do is check the car seat to make sure that's buckled in properly and, after that, they send you on their way. I'm like, "Wait, that's it?!" And the first time, we had two, so I don't know what it's like with just one [infant]. But it's awesome. There's no greater thing in the world than being a parent.
DB: Did Sports Illustrated give you a cover with your shirt off to make up for that weird shortstops photo they excluded you from? The one with A-Rod, Jeter, one of the Alex Gonzalezes, Edgar Renteria and Rey Ordonez, all with their shirts off?
Nomar: I think I did OK. You're talking to me now, so I think I made it [laughs]. Maybe that's the reason, though.
DB: When fans come up to you and say "Nomaaaahh" — can you tell if they are affecting the accent or if it's really the way they talk?
Nomar: It's a little bit of both. It's funny when random people come up to you and drop the "R" and add an "H." But you really know you have it good when you have your own skit about it on "Saturday Night Live." That's a special thing. I think the show peaked right there and has gone down ever since the Nomar skit. It really had [laughs].
DB: Did you hear about Jim Joyce helping to save the woman's life at the ballpark the other day? Did that remind you of the time you and your relative jumped into Boston Harbor to help a couple of women who were drowning?
Nomar: I did hear that about Jim Joyce saving the lady. That was awesome. And what with Jim Joyce had to go through with the perfect game and Armando Galarraga, knowing him as a player that he's one of the best umpires out there. So, hearing that story does not surprise me one bit, because that's just the type of character and the person he is. But does it remind me of jumping into the harbor? I wasn't thinking about that when I heard about Jim Joyce, but we did that, yes. You hope that it's the reaction most people would see a fellow human being in trouble.
DB: What does Johnny Pesky mean to you?
Nomar: Ah, the world. I lost a dear friend, there's no question. Baseball lost an icon, an individual who represented the sport so well. The Red Sox lost somebody who represented that uniform so well. I lost a dear friend.
DB: Did it hurt you that more current Red Sox players didn't go to his funeral?
Nomar: It would have been nice to see more there, there's no question about that. But, at the same time, that's not really the story to me. It's celebrating an amazing person's life, rather than worrying about how many people attended the funeral, or didn't attend.
DB: Overall, what's wrong with the Red Sox?
Nomar: They need to get things in order from the top down. They need to recognize the chain of command and how it trickles down from the top. That's where it all starts. Not changing the people, just answering the question about who is running the Red Sox right now. Is it John Henry, is it Larry [Lucchino], is it Ben Cherington? Who's calling the shots? What is the chain? Once they establish that, it can go down to the manager and the manager can pick his own people, who he's comfortable with, who he has confidence in with the coaching staff or whomever. And then it goes down to the players. Once they get that figured out, like with other organizations, they'll be able to right the ship.
DB: Roger Clemens appears to be on the comeback trail. How about Nomar?
Nomar: Uh, no. I'm lucky to be at home — I can't even say "stuck" — and able to spend more time with my family.
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