Friday, November 21, 2008

The Myth of Nomar

I have been so terribly irritable over the past weeks, and I think it's Al Reyes' fault.

There are other factors at work. While the wide framework of my life is solid, I've been beset by a series of petty failures--the worst kind, to be honest. Ideally, in the event of a life-altering reversal of fortune, you have some kind of support system--friends and family rally around you if you're fired, or sick, or otherwise indisposed. Fail at something stupid, though, and you will receive no pity.

The core of it is this: I haven't been able to write for the past month. This happens sometimes, and though the reasons vary, it always comes down to procrastination. I spent hours today avoiding the whole writing process--having to actually translate the clear threads of my imagination into something muddled and lacking.

To that end, I tried (and failed) to do the following things:
  • Get the new version of AIM to work on my computer.
  • Get through even a quarter of Samurai Shodown II (one of those classic fighting games that requires one to have methamphetamine reflexes to even dream of defeating the computer. So far, the pattern seems to be as such: start match, spend twenty seconds having every attack blocked with a dismissive effortlessness by the computer, lose match, consider throwing controller, and, ultimately, sink back into chair with a certain amount of despair and embarrassment.)
  • Respond to e-mails sent by loved ones.
  • Go to the gym.
God, I suck. The only thing I'm good at, in times like these, is writing. It's the cure-all. But up until fifteen minutes ago, I couldn't do it. It's somewhat liberating to be actually doing this, and someday I may write about the process, as it applies to me.

That, kids, is why the basic idea of Al Reyes has put me in a dark mood.

At twenty-three years of age, Nomar Garciaparra hit .306 with 30 home runs for the Boston Red Sox.

At twenty-four, Nomar hit .323 with 35 home runs.

At twenty-five, Nomar hit .357 with 27 home runs.

I've always liked baseball, but I didn't really love it until Anthony Nomar Garciaparra (his famous middle name, which defined him to the world, became one of those words, which leapt above their original meanings and came to stand for so much more) became the starting shortstop for the Red Sox. Here he was, in the full flower of youth, so audaciously talented that, to a 13-year-old with glasses and acne, he didn't quite seem real. Nomar, along with the hated Derek Jeter and the distant Alex Rodriguez, heralded a new age of shortstoppery in baseball.

Shortstops had been, for a long period of time, smaller and scrappier, defense-first types, broken only by outliers like Cal Ripken Jr. Nomar was a sinewy howitzer, both on the field and at-bat. Two images stand out to me, when thinking of Nomar: his uncanny ability to rove into the hole between second and third base, spear a sharp grounder, then (all in one motion), turning, jumping, and firing the ball to first; and his power-laden swing, which (preceded by a series of ritualistic toe taps and glove adjustments that became iconic) seemed to produce naught but frightening line drives, at every angle. He was otherwordly. There was no effort to his ability.

We will never know his true talent level, because of Al Reyes. Near the end of his age twenty-five season, Reyes hit Nomar in the left wrist with a fastball.

Life is rarely cinematic. There was no hushed silence, no frozen movie frame--Nomar was hit, but he seemed fine., and he had an entire offseason to rest it up. In his age twenty-six season, Nomar hit .372, which to this day doesn't seem like an actual number. He wasn't even in his prime yet.

In his age twenty-seven season, the wrist began to act up. He missed a hundred and forty-two games.

In his age twenty-eight and twenty-nine seasons, he hit a combined .305. He could still mash. But it seemed to us, at the time, that Nomar was struggling, at least a bit. He was always aggressive, but his walks fell, as pitchers felt they could challenge him more often. More and more of those line drives turned into weak popups. He was falling off a mountain in slow motion.

In his age thirty season, Nomar Garciaparra played in only thirty-eight games for Boston, before being traded to the Cubs. The Red Sox won the World Series that year. Al Reyes' fastball had finally found its mark.

I've reached a point in my life where some things I once found essential are falling by the wayside. I can't remember my sixth-grade history teacher's name, or the names of the next-door neighbors at our old house. They're lost in the haze. I wonder if Nomar remembers what it felt like to truly turn on a pitch, the way only an elite hitter can. For the past two years, he's been far below adequate. Once the toast of Boston, a future Hall of Famer, news of Nomar's potential retirement due to "constant physical ailments" is buried deep in an article about something else entirely.

Don't pity him. Nomar is a millionaire several times over, married to a beautiful and talented woman--his life has been better, on balance, than billions and billions of others.

But the man used to be able to do something, and he no longer can. That alone is a kind of death.

1 comment:

Sich said...

Hate to sound like an ignorant fool, but I firmly believe that Nomar made frequent stops to the homerun party known as The Steroid Era.