SO LONG NOMAR, YOU WERE A CLASS ACT
Like many of you, earlier this week I watched the
televised news conference where Nomar Garciaparra officially announced his
retirement from baseball. Appropriately,
“No Mah” had signed a one-day minor league contract with Boston so he could hang ‘em up as a Red Sox. Knowing about his rare condition that genetically
made him susceptible to muscle injuries, the news that he was ending his
playing career at age 36 really wasn’t surprising to me. Yet, as I sat there in my office at Phoenix
Muni watching him at the podium, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first
meeting with the Red Sox legend. As you
know, we signed him to a one-year contract about this time last spring. I’ve dealt with a lot of superstar athletes
in my career–Barry Bonds, John Elway, Steve Young, Deion Sanders, Aaron
Rodgers, Natalie Coughlin, Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Kent, Joe Carter, to name a
few–so I’ve seen all kinds of personalities and egos through the years.
When I first encountered Nomar, I was prepared
for anything. We met in the clubhouse
here in Phoenix. He greeted me with his hand out and a warm
smile. We shook hands and I told him I
needed to take him upstairs to our administrative offices to have his “mug
shot” taken by a photographer. Then he would join Orlando Cabrera, who was also
signed that day, for a brief media session in a nearby conference room
overlooking the field. When we arrived
in the lobby area of our offices, I stopped to introduce Nomar to our long-time
Spring Training receptionist Wilona Perry.
I was interested to see how he would respond to her, as I have always
found that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat “ordinary”
people. Virtually every star player or
celebrity I’ve known has been cordial and kind to the owner, the GM or the
network sportscaster. Sadly, that is not
always the case with rank-and-file folks.
I will never forget how Nomar treated Wilona.
He could not have been more kind to her.
He probably spent 15 minutes just chatting with her, even regaling her
with the now well-publicized story about how he and his brother once saved an
inebriated young woman who had accidentally fallen into the bay near his
condominium in Boston. It was clear to me that Nomar had a big heart
and virtually no ego, and that he
clearly could separate Nomar Garciappara, the icon, from Nomar Garciaparra, the
real person. As he left the lobby, he
made a point to shake Wilona’s hand one more time to say what a pleasure it had
been for him to meet her. Then
we proceeded upstairs to the press conference.
And before we could even start the conference, Nomar had personally
walked up to each and every journalist in attendance and greeted them with a
sincere handshake. At this point, I was
starting to think, “This guy is too good to be true.” Well, as I learned during last season, Nomar
was even better than I could have
While his path crossed
mine in the twilight of his career, I’m not sure I have ever admired an athlete
more than Nomar. To watch him arrive
early every day at the clubhouse so he could be stretched–I’m sure with much
pain–and massaged so he might be available to play, if only for pinch-hitting
duties, was a revelation to me. Most
superstars who had already tasted fame and fortune would have really had a hard
time accepting such a limited and arduous role.
Nomar, however, never complained and was a remarkable gentleman. He always treated everyone, from the media,
the fans, the trainers, the groundsmen, the clubbies, to someone from the front
office staff, with the utmost respect and kindness. It made me recall an experience I had in a
previous life as the San Francisco Giants’ VP of Communications.
Shawon Dunston, the former Chicago Cubs’ star
shortstop, joined the Giants late in his career after injuries had curtailed
his playing time. Like Nomar, Shawon was
a very proud man with an accomplished background. One of the more touching clubhouse scenes I
have ever witnessed was when one of Shawon’s young sons asked his father, “Hey daddy,
what position are you playing now? I
don’t see you at shortstop anymore.”
Shawon’s eyes began to tear up.
He paused, and then answered, “Well, son, things have kind of
changed. My position now is just…just to
be a good teammate.“ As I look back to last year–Nomar’s final
chapter of a remarkable career–I know one thing that is absolutely
certain. If you asked anyone in the A’s
clubhouse about Nomar Garciaparra, to a man they would say, “he was good
teammate.” And perhaps more than
statistics, records or awards, those simple words might be the greatest tribute
a player can ever receive.