Nomar, Gonzo share on and off the field
Dodgers' veteran duo similar in family, background, talent
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra is famous for the series of wrist pats-taps-and-straps routine he does every time he steps out of the batter's box. But the most important part of his day happens hours before the first pitch and long before the spotlight at Dodger Stadium is on him and he begins that quirky wrist riverdance of his.
The outfield grass, just beyond the infield in the area between third base and shortstop, is where the field work begins. He stretches. He bends and he twists. He does football-style agilities in fast-motion and others in extreme slow-motion.
Jog. Walk. Jog. Skip. Jog. Dodge a liner from teammates hitting early batting practice. High-knee. Jog. Cross-over. Watch out! Pitchers' hitting practice. Jog.
Phase two includes talking to his dad -- who is usually standing near the seats just outside the dugout -- hugging a sister and then continuing on to batting practice. The end of batting practice, around the time most fans arrive, just wouldn't be the same if he didn't talk to a few young relatives near the dugout on his way into the clubhouse.
This is a glimpse of the Nomar the Garciaparras love. It's a side Dodgers fans don't see near the batter's box or on first base, but it's the real Nomar. Family is his foundation and the clan is getting bigger. Garciaparra and wife Mia Hamm recently celebrated the birth of twin girls.
"My family was always there throughout everything I have done and now to be able to play in front of them is a thrill," Garciaparra, 33, said. "This is the team all my family cheered for growing up. This is their favorite team. I always say it's an honor to put on this uniform."
When asked about his family, Garciaparra says enough to be polite, but watches his words carefully. He loves talking about his kinfolk, but wants to honor his family's privacy and not come across as being disrespectful by saying too much. He prefers media not talk to the other less famous Garciaparras because he says, "I chose this lifestyle. They didn't." And he says it in such a way that anybody who has any family at all understands where he is coming from.
Garciaparra is not big on favorites. He compliments his parents equally. He uses "all of us kids" often as to not be viewed as special or different from any of the other Garciaparra siblings -- even though everybody knows he is. He says "Gosh darn" and "darn" more than usual and he answers questions so straight-faced, you think he is reading them off a cue card. When he was asked what he learned from his parents, his response was typical Nomar.
"Gosh darn, let me think," he said. "They are just great people. I will be an amazing parent if I can be half the parents they are. I appreciate what they did for us and all the sacrifices they made. I love my family. I owe them everything."
Family and tradition. Those could be two of big the reasons Garciaparra and teammate Luis Gonzalez have become such good buddies in such a short time. Gonzalez has triplets, and like Garciaparra, is proud of his Hispanic heritage and all that goes with it -- primarily family. Garciaparra is a well-known Mexican-American from Southern California. Gonzalez, from Tampa, Florida, is Cuban-American.
It doesn't hurt that the veterans locker right next to each other in the home clubhouse.
"It just seemed like from Day 1, we kind of hit it off well together, laughing and joking around," Gonzalez, 39, said. "To be honest, I am living where I live now because I asked where he lived and some of the other guys lived. They said Nomar lived in Manhattan Beach. I thought if he lived out there, it must be a pretty good spot."
Gonzalez and Garciaparra sometimes eat lunch and dinner together on the road. They ride to and from the park together on occasion when at home. They talk about their kids and they talk baseball. The words and phrases they use to describe each other are almost identical and can be interchanged.
"I always loved the way he played."
"You admire and respect a person who plays hard every day."
"He's a fun guy, and I enjoy being around him."
The words from Garciaparra and Gonzalez are sincere, but they say them with such a devilish smile and facial expression -- and usually shaking their heads -- they seem more like Little League pals than big-league comrades.
"He said he lives in Manhattan Beach because of me?" Garciaparra said. "It's a nice area. He's a smart man. Nobody ever said he was dumb."
Gonzalez heard the remark and laughed out loud. He's happy, and he should be. Gonzalez is hitting .317 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Garciaparra is hitting .300 with one home run and 14 RBIs.
"When you have these kind of guys on your ballclub, that are productive players and good veterans, there is no substitute for that," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "A lot of times you will have veteran players, but [they] will not be productive. He can set an example, but it's tougher when you don't perform. These guys set an example by being productive and being themselves, just being good people. Somebody did a good job raising these guys."
In the end, it all comes back to family for the Killer Gs. And now it's time for Garciaparra to return the favor. The first baseman says he is "picking Luis' brain" about parenting and says he has no problem with the fact his pre-pregame routine just got a little longer. And messier.
"I want to see him operate, see what he does," Gonzalez said. "I want to see the first diaper changes and feedings. I was struggling my first time. I had buddies over the house trying to help me out. It was like an assembly line. When I got to changing diapers for the third one, the first one went again. It was crazy."
Garciaparra would not have it any other way. It's a yet another part of his routine few will ever see.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.