Former Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra respects the game of baseball, first when he played as a youth to his latest venture as an analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Garciaparra, who grew up in Southern California and played for four Major League teams — the Boston Rex Sox, Chicago Cubs, Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics — was the guest speaker for the annual Bobby Dolan Dinner on Thursday, the largest fundraiser for University of Nevada baseball. He remembers the importance of playing baseball at Georgia Tech University and advancing to the championship round of the College World Series at Omaha, Neb., and showing his humility when discussing those who helped him with his career.
With those thoughts to his past, it was not surprising when the 46-year-old Garciaparra admonished certain individuals with the Houston Astros who were caught in a sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 World Series.
“Obviously, it is sad and unfortunate,” he said, adding he’s glad Major League Baseball took action and suspended the Astros manager and general manager and fined the organization $5 million.
“When you cheat, nobody wins,” he said.
Garciaparra said this incident should be a learning experience for those involved in baseball, but he also lamented the black mark placed on America’s pastime. Not only will the scandal tarnish baseball, but the Red Sox great said it will have an effect afterward.
“I’m glad they got caught, and (the commissioner’s office) is doing something about it,” Garciaparra said. “Hopefully, it stops it further down the line.”
Garciaparra considered it a blessing to have played baseball at all levels. He spoke to Nevada players before the dinner, telling them to embrace the experience of competing with the Wolf Pack. He said they should consider college as a stepping stone, especially for those who want to play at the next level. He said attending Georgia Tech groomed him for what he experienced in post-college life and advised players to focus on what they want to achieve.
The Whittier, Calif., native said they will learn more about themselves for the next phase of their lives.
“Always ask questions,” he said.
Garciaparra progressed through the ranks of Minor League Baseball to make the Red Sox roster in 1996. He began his professional career with Sarasota in the A League in 1994 and then for Double-A Trenton the following season. In playing Triple-A ball for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1996, he batted .343 with 16 home runs and 46 RBI and received a late-season call up to the Major Leagues. Being in a Triple-A city for the Bobby Dolan Dinner, Garciaparra said playing Minor League Baseball is not an easy life.
“It’s a commitment. It’s a sacrifice. There’s a lot that goes into it,” he said. “But at the same time you embrace it.”
While collegiate football and basketball gives players a direct route to the highest level of competition, Garciaparra said baseball humbles its most gifted athletes. No matter the accolades received in college, a player goes to a Minor League team and rides the bus from one ballpark to another. Although there is humility involved with the experience, he said players don’t give up when they want to achieve.
Garciaparra was a six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year in 1997 and a three-time winner of the AL Silver Slugger Award. He batted a lifetime average of .313, which include .372 in 2000. He also won the AL batting title two years in a row. Although Boston traded him to Chicago midway in the 2004 season, he received a World Series ring and a share of the earnings after the Red Sox won the Fall Classic.
Garciaparra said he had many Fenway Park moments that included wins against the team’s fiercest rival, the New York Yankees, and a grand slam home run on his birthday. After he belted the grand slam and crossed home, he said the fans began singing Happy Birthday. The Boston shortstop declined to rate the pitchers he faced but said he respected every pitcher. He cited managers Kevin Kennedy, Jimmy Williams and Dusty Baker as leaders who taught him much about the game.
“My experience and knowledge of the game continues to grow,” he said. “I don’t know it all.”
Garciaparra, though, played on the 1999 All-Star team with Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter, saying he has great respect for him.
Although he is fond of his playing days, he is equally — if not more proud — of his family. Garciaparra married World Cup champion and Olympic soccer star Mia Hamm in 2003, and they have three children, two daughters and a son.
Coincidentally, Garciaparra and Nevada head baseball coach T.J. Bruce attended and played baseball at St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, Calif.) but at different times. Bruce said Garciaparra brings humility and a respect for himself and the game.
“He did everything the right way,” Bruce said.
The Nevada coach said Garciaparra has been a great ambassador for Major League Baseball, and his appearance at the Bobby Dolan Dinner resonates well for Bruce. With the baseball season beginning soon for the Wolf Pack, Bruce said Garciaparra is speaking to the players and community at the right time.
“For him to be here and take time out of his busy schedule away from his family means the world for me,” Bruce said. “I’ve known him for quite a long time. He is just a special human being.”