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Garciaparra, (Anthony) Nomar

GARCIAPARRA, (Anthony) Nomar

(b. 23 July 1973 in Whittier, California), Red Sox shortstop who in 1997 recorded one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history, including a thirty-game hitting streak (an American League rookie record), a major league record for most RBI by a leadoff man (ninety-eight), and another for home runs by a rookie shortstop (thirty).

Garciaparra, the oldest of four children born to Ramon and Sylvia Garciaparra, grew up in southern California playing baseball, soccer, and football under the direction of his sports-infatuated father.

Garciaparra was named after the University of Southern California (USC) football star running back Anthony Davis. Garciaparra's mother was a USC fan who grew fond of the name Anthony after repeatedly hearing it over the loudspeaker. Garciaparra's Mexican-born father added the middle name Nomar—it's his own name spelled backward. During his youngest days, Garciaparra went by Anthony. When he started school and realized there were other Anthonys, he decided to go by Nomar.

From the time Garciaparra began playing T-ball at age six, he was so serious about the game that the other children's parents nicknamed him "No-Nonsense Nomar," a moniker that is still fitting. In his youth Garciaparra excelled at baseball and soccer and was a place kicker on his high school football team. Though he enjoyed all sports, baseball was his favorite, and his father forced him to learn every position so he'd respect them all.

"I never had a baseball hero or anything like that," Garciaparra told Sports Illustrated. "I loved the game just for the sake of playing it. I'd tell my dad from the time I was five or six, 'Teach me that. Don't tell me about who plays the game in the majors. Tell me how to play it.' I wanted to learn as much as I could about every position."

At the dinner table, father and son discussed strategy and outlined plays on napkins. The pair spent many afternoons honing Garciaparra's baseball skills. To motivate his son to become a hitter, Ramon paid him twenty-five cents for each hit but fined him double each time he swung but failed to make contact. Ramon hated to see his son strike out, especially by not swinging and risking a strikeout by just standing still. Garciaparra consequently learned to swing at nearly every pitch, and the system turned him into a formidable hitter unafraid to attack the ball.

In 1991 Garciaparra graduated from Saint John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the fifth round, though he never signed. Several colleges courted him as well, offering him scholarships in baseball, soccer, and/or football. Garciaparra chose to play baseball at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In 1992 Garciaparra played with future professionals when he made the U.S. Olympic baseball team, which made it to the semifinals. He treated his Olympic experience as an opportunity to study baseball from a new angle and returned to college with renewed intensity. He specifically watched the other U.S. Olympic team shortstops, including Chris Gomez (who went on to play for the Padres). The Olympic team also played exhibition games before the start of major league games; seeing the pros in the dugout and watching them play inspired him to try harder. The season he returned, his junior year, Garciaparra helped lead Georgia Tech to the College World Series. Though the team lost the championship game, Garciaparra's performance earned him All-Tournament honors.

Garciaparra decided to forgo his senior year after the Boston Red Sox picked him in the first round of the June 1994 draft. He moved quickly through the ranks of the Boston minor league organization and in 1996 played Triple-A ball for the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Red Sox. He proved himself a steady hitter, batting .343 in 43 games with 16 home runs and 46 RBI, though he was hampered by a hamstring tear and a sprained ankle. His teammates nominated him player of the year. Boston called Garcia-parra up to the majors in late August 1996. His first major league hit was a home run. That year he played in twenty-four games, batting .241. He also smacked 4 home runs and had 16 RBI.

During 1997, his first full season in the majors, Garcia-parra took the league by storm. Between 26 July and 29 August he had a thirty-game hitting streak, breaking the American League's rookie hitting streak record of twenty-six, set in 1943. Garciaparra led the AL in hits with 209 and in triples with eleven. He was named AL rookie of the year.

Garciaparra has become known for more than just his statistics; his eccentric rituals are also widely discussed. During the season Garciaparra never changes or washes his cap. He wears the same underwear to each game. He walks into the dugout toddler-style, placing both feet on every step—one foot, then the other. He tugs on his batting gloves before every pitch and taps his toes in the dirt. On the infield, he spits into his glove after nearly every pitch. Though many make fun of his fidgeting and call Garciaparra superstitious, he defends his quirks, brushing them off as routines that make him comfortable on the ballfield. While his skills on the diamond keep fans watching, Garciaparra's chiseled Hollywood features and bulging forearms keep the teenage girls swooning. People magazine named him one of the most eligible bachelors in the United States.

But Garciaparra is where he is today because of his devotion to baseball. During practice he fields with a child-size glove to make sure he doesn't get sloppy. Also, he has improved his batting average each season. He started at .241 during his twenty-four-game stint in 1996. In 1997 he batted .306 and steadily increased to .372 in 2000.

Part of the reason for his increase in average is his increase in size. Over the years Garciaparra has morphed from the 135 pounds he weighed in high school into 190 pounds of explosive muscle. During the off-season he is dedicated to strenuous muscle-building workouts. He first tried this approach after his 1995 season in the minors, which wore him out. He gained fifteen pounds in three months and discovered the next year that he had the power to hit homers. Garciaparra's workout regimen includes abdominal crunches and resistance training—fielding balls while tied to a bungee—and he does it every day from 9:00 A. M. to 4:30 p.m.

"I saw him at Georgia Tech," former Red Sox teammate Aaron Sele told Sports Illustrated. "He was a rail, just a skinny old shortstop. As I watched him develop, I knew why it happened. He's got an incredible desire. I don't know anybody who's more driven."

Since his rookie season, Garciaparra has been compared to legendary New York Yankees player Joe DiMaggio. He is, after all, the only right-hander in more than sixty years to hit as high as .372 since DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939.

Some baseball pundits predict that Garciaparra will be the first player in more than sixty years to hit .400. Baseball agent Scott Boras conducted a statistical study that shows that if Garciaparra keeps on pace, by age forty he will have tallied 513 home runs and 3,581 hits and have a career batting average of .336.

A potential barrier to these achievements is Garciaparra's likelihood of injury, given his high-intensity play; he spent much of the 2001 season out of commission following wrist surgery. If he does get back on track, it may be time to say, "Move over, DiMaggio."

For a synopsis of Garciaparra's career, see James Buckley, Jr., Super Shortstops: Jeter, Nomar, and A-Rod (2001). Among the more informative journal articles about Garciaparra are Sports Illustrated (1 Sept. 1997); Sport (Sept. 1998); and Sports Illustrated (5 Mar. 2001). Among newspaper articles, see the Boston Globe (11 Apr. 2001).

Lisa Frick

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