Thank You, Nomar.

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Today is my 29th birthday. Like anyone else, on my birthday I’ve considered a lot of things when thinking about how ‘old’ I am. Ultimately, I believe we’re only as old as we feel. I don’t feel ‘old’ necessarily, but Nomar Garciaparra’s announcement of his retirement from Major League Baseball has me rethinking things. It’s hard to believe the first time many of us saw the toe tapping, glove tightening future superstar was 14 years ago.

Bill Ivie did an incredible job to recap Nomar Garciaparra’s career in Major League Baseball right here on Baseball Digest. Click here to read Ivie’s article on Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement.

Nomar’s career began with his first and only appearance at second base when he made a late inning defensive replacement for Jeff Frye. 14 years later, only Tim Wakefield remains a member of the team. Wakefield and the Red Sox were on the wrong end of a complete game shutout thrown by Willie Adams of the Athletics in that game. As he mentioned during the press conference, Nomar’s first career hit came a few days later against the Oakland Athletics, the team he would eventually play his final game with. His first hit was a home run came against John Wasdin, who became a teammate of Nomar’s during his first several full seasons in the big leagues.

Nomar Garciaparra arrived in Boston at a time big named players were on their way out of Boston. It might not have been obvious at the time, but a major overhaul of the roster was beginning to take shape. 1996 was Roger Clemens’ final season in Boston. The 1995 MVP of the AL, Mo Vaughn, departed Boston following the 1998 season. During Nomar’s first few seasons, he was arguably the best player on the team. Between the departure of Mo Vaughn and the arrival of Manny Ramirez, Garciaparra was easily the best player on the team.

You can read about Nomar’s incredible rookie year in Baseball Digest magazine’s article from the December 1997 issue. Click here for the Google Book reader. Be sure to visit the Bleachers to discuss the great Red Sox career of Nomar Garciaparra and the magazine that was among the first to put him on the cover.

2 World Series titles and a slew of superstars over the last decade make it easy to forget the weak lineups that surrounded Nomar Garciaparra and supported Pedro Martinez when he arrived on the scene in 1998. Everybody has heard about the Rookie of The Year award, the near MVP season of 1998, the back-to-back seasons of batting titles. Nomar Garciaparra’s name is spread throughout the franchise leader lists, but here are a few franchise tidbits that might have fallen through the cracks.

– Only Ted Williams and Tris Speaker had a higher batting average in a single season as a Red Sox than Nomar’s .372 during the 2000 season. In the same breath, only Williams, Speaker and Wade Boggs have higher career batting averages as members of the Red Sox than Nomar’s .323 over 9 seasons.

– Before the arrival of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, only Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx had a higher slugging percentage than Nomar’s .533.

– Dustin Pedroia’s 213 hits in 2008 were the most any Red Sox player had in a single season since Nomar’s rookie season when he had 209 hits to lead the league.

– Nomar’s 56 doubles in 2002 led the league and are the most by any Red Sox player since Earl Webb hit 67 in 1931.

– Nomar homered on his birthday in 1998, and hit three homers on his birthday in 2002.

Though Nomar Garciaparra departed Boston on less than amicable terms in 2004, time and championship success seem to have washed away any animosity. He made his long awaited return to Fenway Park when the Athletics played the Red Sox in a late July game last season, and was showered with applause from the Fenway Faithful. The same occurred today when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former longtime teammate Jason Varitek prior to today’s spring training game.

The one day signing gives Nomar Garciaparra closure to a once promising career, ending things right where they started. His retirement allows us to pause for a moment to consider where the team came from, and where they’re headed. For a while, he was the only shining spot on the roster, carrying the offense to the 1998 & 1999 postseason. By 2003, he was a key cog in the machine, helping the team to the 2003 ALCS. Traded in 2004 for the parts that would lead to a world title, it’s clear(to this fan, at least) that Nomar Garciaparra will always be remembered as a face of the team during his years here.

I think I speak for many fans that witnessed the Red Sox career of Nomar when I say, “Thank You, Nomar.” Every generation of Red Sox fans have a few players that represent the greatest they’ve ever seen. Nomar Garciaparra appropriately bridges the gap between the Roger Clemens’ and David Ortiz’s of Red Sox history. Once thought to be a future Hall of Famer, there is no question that he is a Red Sox Hall of Famer.


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