Ivy greener for Nomar
Nomar Garciaparra's exodus to Chicago is Red Sox Nation's agony and Wrigleyville's ecstasy.
Standing at an elevated subway station in downtown, waiting for the train to take them to the game, the mom scanned the Chicago Tribune. There were three columns on the Garciaparra trade spread across the page. She read the headlines to her husband, daughter and son. He was the one in the Johnny Damon jersey.
"Cubs' heist ... it's a great hit-and-run,'' she said. "As good as a trade gets ... With Nomar, Cubs could really set sail.''
Suffice it to say, the lady was just a little morose.
You wonder how that family felt after watching the Boston shortstop get the Sammy Sosa treatment, with cameras following his every move and fans chanting his name. The crowd reacted to his first hit, a run-scoring single in the seventh inning, as if it had changed the game, not merely extended the lead.
One region's agony is another's delight.
While the Yankees, Dodgers and others lusted after Randy Johnson, Garciaparra was the one player that the Cubs' fans and players wanted the most at the trade deadline. But they didn't wish too loudly because it seemed like pie in the sky.
How could Boston trade one of the five best shortstops, one who also happens to be a franchise icon, when it has $130 million invested in trying to upstage the Yankees?
Until Cubs general manager Jim Hendry made it happen, taking advantage of the bad feelings between Boston management and Garciaparra, it seemed too good to be true.
At the time of the trade, the Cubs were 56-48. That's a pace to win 87 games -- not bad by the team's low standards but far below what was expected after Hendry added Greg Maddux, Derrek Lee and LaTroy Hawkins to the roster that had taken it to Game 7 of the championship series a year ago.
Assuming he can stay on the field -- the Red Sox painted his sore Achilles tendon as a major factor in the trade -- Garciaparra should be exactly what the Cubs needed. With Alex Gonzalez gone for two months after suffering a broken wrist, their shortstops are hitting .221-5-36 with a woeful .594 OPS. That's the worst production at the position in the majors.
Ramon Martinez, a utility player throughout his career, has started 52 games at short this season. Rey Ordonez, signed off the scrap heap after being beaten out for a job by rookie Khalil Greene in San Diego, got 17 starts even though he hit only .164.
Along the way, Hendry was so concerned about shortstop that he had also signed Damian Jackson and Ricky Gutierrez to minor-league contracts. Now he's got a guy who has something left in his tank, as well as something to prove.
Emotionally, the Garciaparra trade was like serving jet fuel in Gatorade containers for the Cubs' players.
Not only did Hendry get Garciaparra but he didn't have to trade a significant part from the team. The Red Sox had been asking for Matt Clement but Hendry appeared to play a great hand of poker.
"Everybody has a lot of faith in Jim Hendry,'' said second baseman Todd Walker, who played alongside Garciaparra in Boston last year. "It was great he was able to keep the pitching staff intact because it's the best in baseball, and adding a shortstop the quality of Nomar ... he's an awesome addition to the team.''
Walker believes Garciaparra will rise to the occasion down the stretch. "He has been through the wars with Boston on many occasions and in the postseason,'' he said. "There's no harder place to play than Boston. You can't just pull anybody off any team and put them in this situation, because it's a high-pressure situation.''
Gonzalez was popular with his teammates, especially the pitchers who knew he was going to make plays behind him. His error in Game 6 against Florida might have been so unsettling for Mark Prior and others because he is normally so sure handed.
"Alex has become a good friend of mine, and I'll miss him,'' catcher Michael Barrett said. "He led the NL in fielding percentage and he was clutch for us last year. But we're getting a proven .300 hitter.''
Garciaparra had hit .386 for Boston in July. He faces an adjustment in switching leagues -- he had never even been to Wrigley Field before Sunday -- but seems energized by the chance to try to help salvage the season of the other of baseball's cursed franchises.
The Cubs are probably too far behind St. Louis to catch the Cardinals but become favorites to outlast teams like San Diego, San Francisco and Florida in the wild-card race.
Garciaparra says he'll cherish the way he was welcomed to Chicago.
"It was great,'' he said. "My first game. Not only to wear this uniform but to be able to play in front of these fans, and the ovation I got ... things like that you'll never forget. I know I won't. I can't thank them enough. ... The ovation I got -- that's something you don't forget. That stays with you. It stays in your heart and you appreciate it every step of the way.''
For that family from New England, the memory of the Cubs' victory over Philadelphia on Sunday could be passed down from generation to generation. It may not be a fond memory, however.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.
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