Commentary

It was Nomar's night

Originally Published: August 1, 2007
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

There was a big home run hit Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. With one on base and the game tied at 4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Dodgers third baseman Nomar Garciaparra ripped a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall to give his team a 6-4 victory over the visiting Giants.

Garciaparra's teammates rushed to the dugout rail to watch the ball fly. The sellout crowd did a loud, happy dance in the stands. Music blared. Lights flashed. Party time.

Barry Bonds (0-for-3 on the night) was nowhere to be seen.

That afternoon, the second-most prolific home run hitter of all time had been, of course, the center of attention. Taking questions for the first time since he arrived Tuesday in Los Angeles, he said the chase for 756 home runs actually has been enjoyable -- "I'm having a good time. Actually going out and playing baseball is fun" -- but it was hard to believe him, surrounded as he was by dozens of reporters, and shrouded as he always is in suspicion and doubt.

He spoke with his head in his hands, sometimes covering his mouth. Every line was a leaden whisper, every writer in the room straining to pick it up. "You don't have fun answering the same questions every day," he admitted after a while. "I'm just trying to talk so you guys will get the hell out of here, so you don't clog up this locker room anymore."

The space was sweaty and cramped, a million miles from the bright green of the field. But by night's end, with Garciaparra's ball in some lucky fan's hands, and with a crowd of reporters gathered around the L.A. third baseman's locker, it was the Bonds watch that seemed far away.

We're all out here trying to win ballgames. If [Barry Bonds] hits a home run, and you're still standing here talking to us because we won, that's fine with us.

Nomar Garciaparra on the media attention

There will come a day soon (please God, let it be soon) when the beginning and the end of the story is Barry Bonds and the number he's posted and the number he's passed. But Wednesday night belonged to Nomar and his mates. Wednesday night was about keeping pace with NL West-leading Arizona and sticking it to their longtime rivals in front of the home folks. Tonight was a straight-up baseball story.

"I just tried to get a pitch to hit," Garciaparra said plainly afterwards. "I tried to get a pitch to keep the inning going, and it went out."

Nothing special about his explanation but its pleasing, breezy mundanity, right? It felt like a glimpse into the future, to a time when the clubhouse won't be a can of stale sardines and the questions won't weigh on Bonds or on any of us with pads and pens. It felt great. We were asking Rafael Furcal about his technique on an elegant tweener of a bunt at the start of the eighth inning. We were talking with Russell Martin and Bruce Bochy about what Dodgers starter Mark Hendrickson (6 2/3 innings, 3 runs, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts) had working on the night.

Such talk let me imagine what it might be like after Bonds breaks the record, as games and at-bats run on past 756. The tendency now, in the anxious days of waiting, is to think everything is epic. Hank Aaron's number looms larger than ever. Bonds' claim to the record seems as if it will be forever fraught with fans' resentment and ambivalence. We think, following this thing day by day, that it is a big deal set in stone and that we will always carry it with us.

But I don't think it will work that way. I think it will recede into the distance over time. It will be replaced by guys like Garciaparra hitting home runs. Wins and losses, for the Giants, the Dodgers, for whomever you root for, will push it off the stage.

"We're all out here trying to win ballgames," Garciaparra said with a shrug. "If [Bonds] hits a home run, and you're still standing here talking to us because we won, that's fine with us."

I won't be surprised when, before too long, we don't care about this chase or this number, even though it is the "most hallowed record in all of American sports." I won't even be shocked if Bonds' reputation, his place in American culture and American sports, shifts over time, maybe even for the better. (I remember the transformation and rehabilitation of Watergate Nixon into senior statesman Nixon; nothing surprises me.)

The train keeps rolling. There will be something beyond this moment.

There will be baseball again, some of it with Barry, and a whole lot more of it without him.

At least until the A-Rod countdown begins.

Eric Neel writes for Page 2 on ESPN.com.

Eric Neel | email

Page 2 columnist
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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