We all remember how it ended.
There was the flatly refused contract offer after the 2003 season. There were the protracted flirtations between the Red Sox and Alex Rodriguez. And there was a frustrated phone call to sports talk radio from Nomar Garciaparra’s honeymoon, of all places.
The relationship between Garciaparra and the team he was the face of for nearly a decade ultimately came to a drawn out, bitter conclusion at the trading deadline in 2004, when the superstar shortstop was shipped out of town in a deal that ultimately helped open the door to the first World Series title for the Red Sox in 86 years.
Garciaparra completed the ultimate sports 180, going from Beantown folk hero to sulking scapegoat in the eyes of Red Sox Nation in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
It was a remarkable turnaround. Garciaparra was once as beloved in Boston as any sports hero before him. Orr. Bird. Nomar—he had entered the pantheon of local superstars referred to simply by one name. He led the league in hitting in back-to-back seasons. He batted .372 for an entire campaign. He was a Sports Illustrated cover boy.
And then, just like that, with a bitter taste lingering for both sides, he was gone.
Monday night, Garciaparra makes his return to Fenway Park for the first time since the ugly divorce. Now a member of the Oakland Athletics, Nomar and his teammates kick off a three-game set at the Fens at 7 PM.
And I expect a rousing standing ovation.
All the back-and-forth drama—which could have provided enough material for a week of Dr. Phil shows—is way in the rearview mirror at this point. What happened happened—and the Red Sox have a pair of shiny new trophies to prove it.
Here’s hoping time has healed whatever wounds were left for both sides. It’s time for bygones to be bygones. It’s time to remember Nomar for what he brought to the franchise and not how he left it.
Members of the 2004 Red Sox team have a special place in the hearts of local fans, a permanent enshrinement in the hero hall of fame. Fenway Park has already played host to a number of emotional returns already, including Gabe Kapler, Trot Nixon, Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, Johnny Damon and, as recently as a few weeks ago, Derek Lowe.
All received long ovations, Damon’s admittedly with more than a smattering of boos given his choice of a new pinstriped uniform. But all were memorable moments, both for player and fan.
Kapler was clearly moved by his ovation. Nixon, too, took a moment to soak it all in. And Lowe spoke for weeks leading up to his appearance about how excited he was to be back.
But none of them is Nomar. His time in Boston was more celebrated and his departure more public than any of the other returnees.
It’s impossible not to think about what could have been. Any Red Sox fan telling you he or she never imagined what it would have been like if the 2004 season ended with Nomar still in town is flat-out lying.
I can’t even imagine the pain Nomar must have felt after the season ended. Think about it—he spent his entire professional career as the face of a team he was trying to resurrect, and two months after he leaves they end up winning the first title in almost 100 years. You’d have to be either a robot or J.D. Drew for that not to eat away at your insides.
And that’s why an ovation is the only acceptable response Monday night. Forget the acrimonious departure and whatever sullen things Garciaparra said or did at the end of his tenure in town—what’s done is done.
He was the ultimate superstar for a long, long time, the first true Red Sox hero for fans of my generation. He deserves to be honored for what he did, and what he did was a lot more than can be summed up in a few hundred words or erased by one ugly break up.
I suspect his first appearance Monday will be a stirring moment, full of goosebumps and cloudy eyes. It’s the opportunity for Red Sox Nation to stand as one and say, “Let’s bury the hatchet. We thank you for all you’ve done.
We all remember how it ended. Monday, Red Sox fans finally have a chance to pen the appropriate alternate finish.
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