Nomar confident he can play first, stay healthy

Updated: December 20, 2005, 10:29 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Nomar Garciaparra is moving to first base with the Los Angeles Dodgers, confident it will be a smooth transition.

Infielder
Los Angeles Dodgers

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
62 9 30 28 .320 .283

And even at age 32, he doesn't think he's on the downside of his career.

In Boston, Garciaparra was one of baseball's best shortstops and a five-time All-Star who won two batting titles. The Dodgers only hope he approaches that level.

"One-year deals, changing positions, I'm not worried about that," Garciaparra said at a Dodger Stadium news conference Monday -- one day after agreeing to a $6 million, one-year contract that allows him to earn an additional $4 million in performance bonuses.

He also considered the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros.

"If I had something to prove, I wouldn't have had so many teams talking to me," Garciaparra said. "I had opportunities to take more than one year. I could have played short for a couple teams."

Garciaparra was strictly a shortstop after his sophomore year in high school until last season, when he played third base for the Chicago Cubs in August and September.

"As of today, he's a first baseman," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said.

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Garciaparra said he looks forward to the challenge of playing first.

"I'll probably be working on it prior to spring training," he said. "Breaking in a new glove, that will be a challenge. You embrace them, you welcome them."

Despite having played in only 21 big league games in 2001, 81 in 2004 and 62 last year, Garciaparra maintained he's not injury-prone.

"No, not at all," he said.

Garciaparra hit .283 with nine homers and 30 RBI for the Cubs last season, when he earned $8.25 million. He tore his left groin running out of the batter's box in St. Louis on April 20 and didn't return until Aug. 5.

He missed 81 games in 2004 with three injuries -- to his Achilles' tendon, left wrist and right groin. And in 2001 with the Red Sox, he underwent surgery on his right wrist.

"I feel great," he said. "I felt that way at the end of last year."

Can he play 150 games next season?

"Yeah, absolutely," he replied.

"The doctors checked everything," Colletti said. "There have been a lot of players through here in the last month. None came out with a better reading than Nomar."

Garciaparra has a .320 lifetime batting average, fifth-highest among active major leaguers. He has played in 135 or more games in six seasons, hit more than 20 homers six times, and driven in 100 or more runs four times.

"I'm not here looking to achieve what I did [in Boston]," he said. "The biggest thing I can achieve is being part of a World Series team. That's what I want to achieve here. I've never set personal goals for myself. It doesn't matter whether you hit .370 or .250 or .210 if you have a ring on your finger."

Garciaparra was born in nearby Whittier, and graduated from St. John Bosco High in suburban Bellflower.

He said that coming home was a major factor in his decision.

"The first big league game I've ever seen was at Dodger Stadium," he recalled. "I grew up cheering for all the L.A. teams. I remember the World Series games [in 1988]. I can tell you the lineup as well. I know all the players and the positions growing up."

Garciaparra met twice with Dodgers executives last week.

"When I came here, those childhood memories came back," he said. "I didn't know if I would ever be here or come back home. I've always felt the support from other places I've gone. To come home and put on this uniform is a great feeling.

"They're putting guys in place. I think it's going to be a fun year. Winning and class, that's what the Dodgers have always represented."

The Dodgers didn't win last season, going 71-91 -- their second-poorest record since moving from Brooklyn before the 1958 season. They parted ways with manager Jim Tracy the day after the season ended and fired general manager Paul DePodesta on Oct. 29.

Colletti has been busy since succeeding DePodesta, hiring manager Grady Little and adding three free agents -- shortstop Rafael Furcal, third baseman Bill Mueller and Garciaparra.

Garciaparra played for Little in Boston from 2002-03, and will join former Red Sox teammates Mueller and Derek Lowe with the Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Colletti continues to pursue free agents, specifically outfielders and starting pitchers. The Dodgers appear close to an agreement with free-agent outfielder Kenny Lofton.

"A possibility," Colletti said. "Not today. Until he's done, he's a possibility."

Garciaparra's wife, former soccer star Mia Hamm, said she was delighted with the way things worked out.

"He made the decision for the right reason -- he made the decision with his heart," she said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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