Nomar Garciaparra on Red Sox turnaround: ‘The focus is now on winning’
|09.18.13 at 12:05 pm ET|
Nomar Garciaparra will be watching closely as the Red Sox and Orioles play Wednesday night at Fenway Park. The one-time face of the Red Sox franchise is now in his fourth year as a “Baseball Tonight” analyst on ESPN. After correctly predicting the Giants would win the World Series last season, he once again is determining his postseason favorite on the way the regular-season finishes.
“I think the Red Sox are one of the strongest teams right now, along with Detroit, if they get Miguel Cabrera healthy, and the Dodgers over in the National League,” said Garciaparra. “Those are the three right now that look like the three strongest teams, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be the hottest teams down the stretch.”
Even after playing nine seasons in Boston, Garciaparra is constantly reminded by Sox fans of their passion for the game.
“Every two weeks people ask me who is winning the World Series and who is the MVP, and sometimes I need to remind people that it’s only April,” Garciaparra said with a laugh. “I really gauge the postseason on the last couple of weeks of the season. I did this last year and said San Francisco, and people were looking at me like, ‘What?’ I could see they were hot, the momentum was on their side. They battled back in their games, and that was the same thing with the Cardinals the year before. This game is so much about momentum. Shoot, ask the guys on the Red Sox, ask David [Ortiz] about ’04. Everybody says, ‘We got hot at the right time.’ That’s so important, especially now with the extra wild card.”
While Garciaparra isn’t surprised that this year’s Sox team is a contender, he hasn’t forgotten the issues facing the club before the start of the year.
“Going into the season, the Red Sox had a lot of question marks,” he said. “A new voice in John Farrell and his staff has really helped. The players have noticed the staff is one cohesive staff with one cohesive message, and the focus is now on winning.”
The Sox appeared to have a laundry list full of problems in spring training, especially in regard to health.
“Look back at the starting staff,” Garciaparra said. “Was John Lackey going to be healthy? Or back to what he’s capable of doing? You had David Ortiz down in April, and you thought the back end of your bullpen was going to be Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.
“You can assume things on paper when the season starts and you can assume the 25 guys, but it takes more than 25 guys. It takes almost that 50-man roster to get to where you want to be. They seem like they jell really well together as a team, but the starting pitching has really come through and solidified them, and the bullpen has done a tremendous job. All of that, together, is the reason they are where they are.”
A highly regarded prospect at shortstop in 1996, Garciaparra has watched Xander Bogaerts with great interest. He was quick to mention that those invested in Bogaerts remain patient while the 20-year-old makes his transition into the majors.
“People need to give him time,” Garciaparra said. “He has tremendous ability, both on the defensive and offensive side, but he’s so young. We all like to put a label on an individual, especially a guy with his ability. You automatically want to label him and put expectations on him, but you have to let time take its course and let him develop.”
Garciaparra cited Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, Tim Naehring, Mike Stanley and Bret Saberhagen as players who helped ease his transition.
“One of the benefits Bogaerts has is coming up to a team with veterans on the club. It allows him, especially in an environment like Boston, to just go play. I had a lot of guys to learn from and ease my transition. There’s definitely going to be some attention on him, and that comes with the intensity of the city, but he has guys who will take him under his wing.”
Along with the veteran leadership, Garciaparra said, Bogaerts is also fortunate to be working under a manager like Farrell.
“The fact that Jimy Williams was there for a while throughout my development and the early stages of my career was great. He was the same voice, and I knew what was expected of me. Understanding those expectations also helps what your consistency as you’re developing as a player.”
On the subject of former Sox managers, Garciaparra took a moment to stand up for Grady Little. Nomar played for Little in Boston as well as in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.
“Grady was incredible,” Garciaparra said. “He won over 90 games in both of his years. The players loved him. When was announced as our manager, I don’t think ownership ever knew the type of reception he was going to get with the players. It was a standing ovation, screams and excitement in the locker room, it was unbelievable. That was quite a welcome.”
Little, who infamously managed his last game with the Sox in 2003, won 95 games in that regular season and guided the team to within one game of the World Series.
“There’s no question 2003 was a special season,” Garciaparra said. “We believed that was the team that was going to win it. We believed in that and we were one game away from getting there. That was just a close, tight-knit group. We also believed it was going to be the best World Series, with us and the Cubs.”
As an analyst sharing his baseball acumen on ESPN, Garciaparra watches games across the majors every night. But, as a player, he needed a healthy distance from the game when he wasn’t on the field. He admitted to having only watched the Fall Classic twice during his 14-year playing career.
“I watched only two World Series when I was player. One was in 2001 when the Mets and the Yankees played. I watched that because my college roommate, Jay Payton, played center field for the Mets, so mostly I watched him to see what he was going to do. The only other time was ’04.”
Though he had been unceremoniously dumped by the team at the trading deadline, Garciaparra was still closely following his old teammates — and desperately wanted the city of Boston to taste its first championship in 86 years.
“Watching that World Series helped me because everything that was talked about and people said was so crazy. A lot of talk [regarding how his tenure with the Sox ended] just wasn’t true,” he said. “And guys on the team were calling me during that World Series. They’d call and ask me on the bus after a win and say, ‘Hey, did you see us? We’re thinking about you.’ Here I was, traded to another team, but the guys on that team were still calling me during that stretch. So I was definitely following them and cheering them on.
“The World Series was my goal every single year. You think of a World Series as an individual, but I learned something after the trade. The World Series wasn’t about me, it was a World Series for that city. That’s all I cared about. Just getting a World Series for these wonderful people. I was just so pumped to see that, and I was also grateful because I had so many friends on that team.”
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