BOSTON -- Don't call Nomar Garciaparra a gate crasher.
Garciaparra's appearance at the last home game at Fenway Park this season, Sept. 26, was fully expected. He was the greatest offensive shortstop in Red Sox history and one of the most beloved players in the nine seasons he spent here. For that, he was voted the starting shortstop on the All-Fenway Team, and the ovation he received was tremendous.
Garciaparra was out at Fenway a day earlier, too, for a similar ceremony, honoring the 2004 World Championship team. Pedro Martinez was back in town, parading through Fenway once again with Kevin Millar, Keith Foulke and the old crew on a duck boat.
That crew included Garciaparra. And he was proud to be there, even though some in town may have been surprised to see him. The Sox traded Garciaparra midway through that landmark season.
"The '04 team, I got invited. I was happy to do that," Garciaparra said. "It was good to see all the guys. ... I saw them the night before. They were like, 'You're going to be there tomorrow with us, right?' The Red Sox called me, said they wanted me to be a part of it. So it wasn't like I was just coming in and crashing the party."
Garciaparra will always be associated with the Sox and Boston, where he won two batting titles. He played 38 games with the '04 Sox before a deadline deal sent him to the Cubs. He retired as a member of the Sox in 2010, signing a one-day contract. And as he points out, he was nonetheless a part of that title-winning club, even if he didn't finish the season here.
"All the teammates, guys were all there," Garciaparra said of the celebration. "They were excited about that, about me going. So, that's why I did it. You're going to have people go, 'Oh, what's he doing there?' Listen, what they were actually celebrating was the '04 team. I was on the team. And it is a championship season. It's not just a championship series. That's what's great. They invited everybody I think who got a ring, and there was a lot of guys. To be a part of that, just to see these guys, was great.
"We all got to have dinner the night before and it was like as if nothing had ever changed. And later on after that we were all hanging out. It was like it was yesterday. Like we were still playing. That's fun."
Seeing the Red Sox flounder this season wasn't easy for Garciaparra, who spends his time in Los Angeles raising three children and working for ESPN as an analyst. But he didn't single out manager Bobby Valentine as the culprit.
"Boston's always dear to my heart," he said. "You always want to see them succeed and do well, and it was a tough season for them, no question. I think they, I've said this, I think they looked like they're a major business in crisis right now. All good businesses have that time, they hit a bump in the road, and all good businesses, what they do -- and I think [Red Sox president] Larry Lucchino said: 'You hit the reset button.' You get together, and you go, 'All right, sit around the table, what's our message? We got to get on the same page.' It didn't seem like they were on the same page this year at all, from the top down. And it's not one person's fault."
He wasn't surprised Valentine was fired, though. Garciaparra felt Valentine "wasn't really set up to succeed" because "it's tough for a manager to not to be able to pick his staff."
"The stuff he had to deal with, with all the injuries he had to deal with," Garciaparra said. "And even players. I talked to some of the players, they were great. They're like, listen, 'We also didn't do our job to make it easier on him. We haven't made his job easy, because we're not performing the way we're capable of performing.' Everybody recognized that."
Garciaparra is still the standard for shortstops in Boston and probably will be for a long time. He hit .323 in his 966 games with the Sox, with 178 home runs to boot. But he has high praise for the current tandem.
Mike Aviles impressed Garciaparra this season, going the distance to make plays some said he couldn't, and Garciaparra raved about Jose Iglesias' glove.
"Ridiculous. Amazing. Fun to watch," Garciaparra said of Iglesias. "Just, go out there, he's a highlight reel, capable of being a highlight reel every single day. And that's great to see. You want to see his offense come around just a little bit. I'm not talking about him having to be lights out, middle of the lineup type of a guy. Just go out there, do your job, do the little things. He's so young, that'll come.
"Aviles goes out there and does the job well. He's a solid defender. ... He'll make that great play, he's really good. He's a good shortstop. And he handles the bat extremely well. He's an impact on both sides of the plate. And that's impressive."