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Nomar: Sox need owner who cares

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Nomar Garciaparra, home in California, has traveled some. He has laid off weights affecting the right wrist injury that cost him all but 21 games of the 2001 season, until he goes to Arizona in January to begin his intense six-week session with trainer Mark Verstagen.

All the while, the future of the Red Sox has been on his mind, which prompted him to call and offer his thoughts to whoever ends up buying the team, be he Frank McCourt, Charles Dolan, Joe O'Donnell or John Henry. Because, while he retains his privacy and during the season is reserved in all public proclamations, the passion with which Nomar plays is matched by his passion for what the Red Sox are to New England, because a game is best when it matters.

"I don't know any of the people involved, and I really don't know what's going on," says Garciaparra. "That's not my business. But the Red Sox and the fans are not just my business, they're my passion, and I just hope that whoever buys them appreciates what the Red Sox are.

"This is not just a team, or a sports franchise," says Garciaparra. "The Red Sox are a way of life, the lifestyle of an entire region. There isn't another place where baseball matters the way it does in Boston and throughout New England. When I was hurt this season and the team was on the road, I'd be up in the morning going for the papers to see what's going on and I fully appreciated how much people care -- which is what makes it so great to play there.

"I'm not saying there can't be a great owner from someplace other than Boston, but you have to live it and feel it to comprehend it. The Red Sox are a major part of peoples' daily existence. Everyone's excited when we're winning, they're down or maybe even angry when we lose, but that's the way it should be. That passion is what makes sports great."

Late in the season, when the walls were crumbling around Fenway and the Red Sox had nearly been no-hit by Mike Mussina, when the players got into the clubhouse they learned bullpen coach John Cumberland had been fired. At that point Garciaparra blurted out, "now you know why no one wants to play here" within earshot of the media, and it became a major story. His comment was about the crowded, chaotic, jail-cell atmosphere of the ancient clubhouse, but he also knows that one of the reasons Mussina chose the Yankees over the Red Sox was that he was wary of the atmosphere around the team.

"I understand that some players around the leagues hear things about what goes on," says Garciaparra, "but there are a lot of players who talk about playing here because it can be the best place to play. If some things were modernized, it can be that way overnight. With the passion and the intensity of the fans in Fenway right on top of the players, we should have the biggest home-field advantage in the game. I sense it when things are going well, players come in, look around and think,'this is going to be tough ... "

Nomar's relationship with the fans in Fenway has been extraordinary, because he plays with such passion, with X-Games abandon, with no agenda but winning. "This is not a game of individual statistics, it's a game that has its greatest reward in winning," he says. "The fans love individual moments, but they're there for the winning. I think that's why I love the postseason so much, because that's all about the team winning or losing, not about any individual statistic."

After the Red Sox lost the 1998 Division Series to Cleveland and the 2000 League Championship Series to New York, Garciaparra went back onto the field afterward and paid tribute to the fans. This summer, when he came back after missing four months because of the wrist injury, Garciaparra homered in his first game and received one of the wildest ovations any Red Sox player has been afforded in many years. "Those were chilling moments," he says. "I felt the fans should be reminded by the players how much we're lucky to be playing here, and how lucky we are that they care so passionately. I mean this sincerely -- one of the reasons that ovation this summer meant so much is that more than any city in the country, these fans know when to cheer, when to stand, when to boo, when to get on the opposition. And this is what whoever buys this team has to appreciate.

"I want to play my entire career in Boston. I want to win for these fans, because the fans there deserve a championship, one time, because they invest so much of their lives in the Red Sox. I want to win a World Series obviously, but I want it to be in Boston, because when that time comes and the Red Sox are running out in the middle of the field, it may be one of the greatest experiences ever in sports.

"Do I have some ideas about things to make the environment better, about making the media's relationship better? Sure. But this isn't the time or the place.

"I just have been following all this from a distance, and all I ask any prospective owner is that he live it. Walk the streets. Buy the papers. Listen to the buzz. If you aren't passionate, if you don't care, then it might not be the right investment.

"I tell my friends in California all the time, 'the Red Sox are not a sports franchise, they are a lifetstyle, and that lifestyle should be the absolute greatest thing in sports.' "

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