Nomar Garciaparra retired yesterday, after the Red Sox, in what I thought was a sweet gesture no matter what the increasingly-sour Dan Shaughnessy (is there a sports columnist in America who more needs a sabbatical?) writes, signed him to a one-day minor league contract to allow him to hang it up as a member of the team. I know the flaws. The arrogance. The sour departure in 2004. The hurt that he wasn’t there when we finally won it all.
But more than any other baseball player, Nomar Garciaparra is the athlete of my youth. His debut major league season was my second as a Red Sox fan, after my family transplanted from Vermont to Massachusetts, and found in the team a rock our church could be built on. He was, for a time, prodigiously, outrageously gifted, the kind of guy who could hit two grand slams in a single game, on his birthday. We took this California boy with the invented name and flattened its ending into a Bostonism, turning him into Nomah, one of our own. He had a lovely smile, married one of the most admired female athletes of his generation. When there were persistent rumors that he and Mia Hamm were going to buy a rather ostentatious new house in my town, I’ve never been so excited by the prospect of proximity to a celebrity.
It all went to hell, of course. Shaughnessy is right that the 2004 split was dreadful, though he’s wrong that we shouldn’t forgive, and seek reconciliation. But that’s what growing up is. The people you love most hurt you worst. Promising careers get destroyed by injury rumored to be caused by steroid use, or at least overtraining. But athletes are perhaps the best training for a mature kind of love. You start out blind, you learn to see, and you have to figure out how to adore them even after your vision has cleared.