I Try To See Rocco, But All I Think Is Nomar

Nick CovielloCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2009

I’m not much of a morning person; in fact, I can’t remember the last time I was awake at seven o’clock in the AM without being even the slightest bit tired; however, today was an exception.

As I awoke at 6:30, I quickly came to realize that due to my screwed up sleeping schedule, I wasn’t in the least bit tired. Grudgingly, I rose and went to retrieve the morning paper, the sports page specifically, which I don’t often read any more; and yet, on the front page of the Worcester T&G sports section a headline and a picture caught my attention.

There was Rocco Baldelli, a player I have always liked, holding up his new Red Sox jersey. But on the other hand, there was the caption: “Fragile Rocco takes Nomar’s No. 5.”

You want to talk about weird feelings in the pit of your stomach? That lone caption hit my harder than some of the more emotional issues in my life. Now, ignoring the fact that that’s completely messed up and definitely qualifies me as a feeling-less zombie, it got me to think back...To think back of the days of Nomar and just what he meant to me and the city of Boston at one point.

For many Red Sox fans, (particularly those born late '80s–early '90s) Nomar was the reason they became Red Sox fans, even baseball fans. I was the prime example of this type of person.

For those children who claimed they’ve been a fan of their favorite team all their life, or even since they were about four or five years old: bullshit. There’s always that certain event or certain player that draws to the sport and draws you to a team. For me, Nomar Garciaparra was that reason.

Sure, I can remember watching the 1996 Sox team with guys like Mo Vaughn, but I don’t recall much, nor was I that interested; however, that all changed when a young shortstop with a goofy batting stance out of Georgia Tech arrived on the scene full time in 1997.

From the very beginning, I fell in love with everything about Nomar. Like many, I loved the way he prepared himself in the batter’s box—from tugging on the batting gloves to kicking dirt and twirling the bat. I loved his acrobatic-like fielding style and his crazy sidearm delivery at short.

I loved his unique first name and his fun-to-say last name. I loved how time would seem to stop when he came to the plate, and how everyone seemed to stop what they were doing just to watch his at-bat. Oh, and let’s not forget how amazed I was at his ability.

To this day, I’ve never been obsessed with a player more, nor seen a better pure hitter in his prime than Nomar. If you scoped around my room a little, you’d come to find around five or six Nomar posters along with 80-something Nomar baseball cards, not to mention all the Nomar shirts I had before I out-grew them all.

I remember meeting Nomar at a local mall back in 1998, and while he wasn’t the most laid back and pleasant of people, it’s still a moment I will never forget. (I recall as I place my Nomar picture down in front of him he asked me “do you want me to sign this?” I have to admit I was a little taken aback, even at age nine. I thought “well, I sure as shit don’t want you to eat it.”)

I’d have to say the day I got that autograph was probably one of the best days of my life. My idols signature on my favorite picture of him; can’t get much better than that.

By around 2000, I couldn’t look at the No. 5 without thinking about Nomar. A lot of people were drawn to the Red Sox by him, but I wasn’t only drawn to the Sox, I was dedicated to the Sox and Nomar was by God.

It seemed every day Nomar would amaze me more and more. Pitchers simply could not find a place in the strike zone in which Nomar couldn’t stick the bat out and hit a solid line drive. To put it simply, Nomar (1997-2000) was the greatest hitter I’ve ever had the privilege to watch.

Above anything else, I remember when he flirted with .400 in 2000 and just how incredible it was to follow. It was like being able to witness something unthinkable and still find satisfaction when he fell short. It was the baseball version of 18-1 to me. However, shortly after the 2000 season, Nomar was hit in the wrist and never again was the same hitter.

Watching Nomar’s career decline and watching his abilities weaken was like watching a close friend struggle with a life-threatening sickness. There was always hope that he’d return to form, but more likely than not his better days were behind him.

Even so, I remember being glued to ESPN.com during the Nomar for Magglio and A-Rod rumors. I remember being extremely upset and excited at the same time. It had gotten to the point where, while I was still very loyal to Nomar, I was more dedicated to the Red Sox.

The breakdown of that trade was without a doubt the turning point in Nomar’s career. In came all the talk about how Nomar disliked Boston and was upset with the Red Sox for exploring trades involving him. I remember being ecstatic when Nomar returned from injury to a standing ovation in 2004, yet there was something missing. It wasn’t the same Nomar that first got me to love baseball.

This was the version of Nomar that I had met in the mall a half a decade ago. The Nomar that hated all the attention, that hated all the press, that hated all the talk, and who just wanted to play baseball.

About a month later, Nomar was packing his bags and leaving for Chicago. I remember waiting in the driveway for my family to return from wherever they were so I could tell them the news. I was angry, happy, and sad all at the same time. I was very, very confused about how I felt about the situation. I’m talking 11-or-12-year-old-boy-who-ejaculates-for-the-first-time-wondering-what-in-the-hell-is-this-white-shit type of confused.

On one hand, my icon, my God, the reason I got into baseball in the first place was leaving my favorite team. On the other hand, Nomar got to get out of the Boston spotlight and got to get back to just playing baseball again.

Even after these four years, it pains me thinking about how Nomar left Boston, and it pains me further to see what a mess his career has become. In a span of just a few years, Nomar went from the best hitter I’ve seen to a fragile, glass case of emotion.

So there I was, staring at Rocco Baldelli. All the emotions I had when Nomar first got traded came rushing back, all the memories returned as well. I honestly felt sick to my stomach.

To see something as simple as Rocco Baldelli holding up No. 5, Nomar Garcipaparra’s jersey, made me want to throw up. And yet, it’s completely justified. Nomar isn’t going to get his number retired by the Red Sox. Nomar isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. Nomar isn’t even appreciated for what he did in his first four years in Boston any more, but appreciated for leaving and causing the Red Sox to win their first World Series in 86 years.

I came to realize that Nomar doesn’t mean shit anymore, and that Baldelli wearing his No. 5 wouldn’t hurt anyone, nor should anyone take it the wrong way.

I’m starting to wish I didn’t wake up early this morning.