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Tournaments | Story | 9/16/2016

Nomar joins GBG at Evo Upper

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – While watching his Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG) Marucci Blue team get loose before its opener Friday at the Perfect Game/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship at the Goodyear Ballpark Complex, manager Michael Garciaparra shouted out an order.

“Play catch with a purpose!” he yelled in the direction of his players. “Don’t just play catch!”

Standing off to each side of him, one of his long-time coaches and another “assistant coach for the day” looked on unblinkingly, knowing that nothing – not even pregame warmups – can be done without purpose at a PG national championship tournament.

The long-time assistant and Garciaparra family patriarch, Ramon, has seen this hundreds of times over the past four years, ever since he helped his son Michael turn GBG into a full-time operation in the summer of 2013. The new assistant, Michael’s famous brother, Nomar, just took it all in.

Nomar Garciaparra is in the Phoenix-area this week fulfilling his duties as part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ television broadcast crew; the Dodgers are in town for a National League West Division series against the host Diamondbacks. Nomar is in his third year with the Dodgers, working in the play-by-play booth during all the road games and doing pre and postgame shows when they’re home at Dodger Stadium.

With the Dodgers and D’backs slated to play Friday night at Chase Field, Nomar decided to join his brother and his dad in the dugout for the GBG Marucci Blue’s tournament-opener against the SoCal Halos.

Ramon has been a fixture in the GGB dugouts over the last four years, and Michael said his presence and his involvement with the organization has made what he does all the more special. Now, being able to introduce Nomar to his players made the whole operation all the more special.

 “Maybe the younger guys might not know him too well other than (his broadcasting work with) the Little League World Series, but these (older) guys definitely do,” Michael said. “Obviously, they know what our family is about, and we have always stressed the ‘GBG Family.’

“We’re like a baseball family, so it’s pretty special being out here with my dad and having my brother show up so all three of the Garciaparra boys can hang out and watch some baseball players.”

Nomar Garciaparra ended his playing days in 2009 after a 14-year career in the big leagues, the first nine with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox selected him out of Georgia Tech with the 12th overall pick of the first-round in the 1994 MLB Amateur Draft and he immediately endeared himself to New England’s baseball fans.

He won AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 when he hit .306 with league-highs of 209 hits, 684 at-bats and 11 triples; he also hit 44 doubles, 30 home runs, drove in 98 runs and scored 122. A six-time All-Star who hit .313 over the course of his career, Nomar was second in the Most Valuable Player voting behind the Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez in 1998 when he hit .323 with 37 doubles, eight triples and 35 home runs, 122 RBI and 111 runs.

Nomar has been known to show up for GBG games and workouts back home in Southern California but his duties with the Dodgers keep him busy throughout the summer and fall. He also has three kids of his own with his wife, retired soccer star Mia Hamm, and they keep him jumping as well.

“I think what my brother and father have done (with GBG) has been pretty special,” he said Friday. “I get to see the work they put into it behind the scenes an awful lot, and see the effort and the stress that comes with it – the controlled chaos, I guess you could call it.”

At the same time, Nomar has had a front-row seat and has been able to observe how rewarding the endeavor is for Michael and Ramon when they realize the impact they’re having on a large group of young baseball players.

He knows how gratifying it is for his brother and his father when they receive thank-you notes from prospects that have been rewarded with college scholarships or sign a professional contract, or when they get invited to the ceremony where a player signs his National Letter of Intent.

“That’s when they come back and say, ‘This is why we do it,” Nomar said. “Whenever those times come when (Michael) is feeing stressed or overwhelmed and wonders why he’s doing this, he gets one of those letters and says, ‘It’s been worth every moment.’ That’s what’s really cool to see and it speaks volumes of them, as well.”

GBG has three teams – Marucci Navy, Marucci Blue and Marucci/OC – entered in the 88-team PG/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship and two other teams – GBG I.E. and GBG Marucci Navy – entered in the PG/EvoShield Freshman National Championship, which is running simultaneously. It’s a lot to keep track of but Michael and Ramon have never settled for anything less than maximum effort from their players so they’re willing to put forth maximum effort themselves.

The top GBG team in attendance is the upperclass Marucci Navy outfit with top 2017s in Jonny Deluca (ranked No. 118 nationally; an Oregon recruit), catcher Adam Kerner (No. 262; San Diego), right-hander Michael Weisberg (No. 375; California) and middle-infielder Kevin Kendall (No. 484; UCLA). Top 2018s include outfielder Jaden Fein (No. 275; San Diego State), third baseman Sawyer Chesley (No. 385; Arizona), and outfielder Cole Roederer (No. 408; UCLA).

“We tell them that we expect all of our teams to keep (advancing in the playoffs) and we expect everybody to be playing on Monday,” Michael said, referring to the events’ final-four day. “And that’s what you need to expect because it’s happened multiple times already.”

Ever since their first full season under the GBG name, the Garciaparra’s and the other GBG coaches have instilled into their players that conducting business both on and off the field with integrity and character –  combined with hard work and natural ability – can lead to championships.

GBG teams have been almost perennial semifinalists at the PG/EvoShield Upper and Underclass National Championships through the years with Upper championships in 2013 and 2014 and an Under title in 2014; two GBG teams – Marucci Navy and Marucci Blue – met in one of the semifinals at the 2014 Underclass.

“Every grad year is a little bit different, every age-group is a little bit different, so you’ve got to evolve and adapt,” Michael said. “Especially this time of the year in the fall, a lot of players are shut down, which is great because it gives some opportunities to some other guys that are on the cusp to kind of show us what they’re all about and step-up at these big events.”

Nomar Garciaparra was making his Perfect Game debut on Friday, but through his association with his brother’s organization, he seems well-versed in the how’s and the why’s.

“There is definitely some benefit from this,” he said. “I think people are now realizing that if you want to continue playing this game, there are always opportunities. There always used to be that excuse, ‘Well, I never got a shot’ or ‘I never got seen.’ Whatever the excuses might have been, it’s kind of hard to have those excuses now with so many outlets to play this game. … When you look at Perfect Game and you look at some of these tournaments, they provide that opportunity now.”

Nomar looks at Michael’s GBG organization and recognizes what it is and what it was always designed to be: a college developmental program. And that doesn’t translate into only becoming an NCAA Division I player, either. The opportunities to continue playing beyond high school exist at a variety of levels in the college game and they can seem endless.

“There are so many opportunities that exist, and tournaments like Perfect Game … I think people recognize that elite players are coming here and they can get that exposure,” he said. “You never know who’s in the stands that might notice you and the next thing you know, they’re taking to you about playing at the next level.”

When asked what kind of advice he would give to these high school prospects – those with the most realistic aspirations of playing at the next level – Nomar indicated that he would talk to them about the value of perseverance. He would not, however, put perseverance’s value above that of good, old-fashioned hard work.

He explained that during his playing career – and also because he was such an early draft pick – people assumed that he must have always been the best player on any team he was a part of, and that baseball must have come easy for him. That just wasn’t the case, he insists.

“I had to constantly work at it, and I had to continue to work even when I got to the minors and the big leagues; I always had to work,” he said. “It’s about explaining that that’s really what it takes when it’s said and done.

“It’s about what kind of work are you doing when nobody else is looking and what it actually takes. Now I’m surrounded by other individuals that have gone to the highest level and you hear their stories of what they did and it’s the same thing all the time.”

Nomar also talked about what an exciting time it is to be a fan of Major League Baseball with so many young, athletic and talented stars dominating the game. The players are getting bigger, faster and stronger, not only at the big-league level but also at the Perfect Game level. The former six-time MLB All-Star took a look around and almost marveled at what he was seeing.

“We’re at a Perfect Game (high school) tournament and you see these kids, and they’re bigger, stronger, faster,” he said. “It’s just evolution and the knowledge that can be passed down … and I think that’s great; I love seeing that.”

The Garciaparra Baseball Group isn’t about to buck any trends. It will continue to welcome in new groups of players every year and the new players continue to buy into what the Garciaparra’s are selling, lesson that Ramon passed down to Michael and Nomar. And with that, it would be foolish to think GBG teams won’t continue to challenge for PG national championships.

“What’s happening is that now they’re seeing a couple graduating classes before them that bought into what my dad taught my brother and me, and now those kids are teaching the younger groups,” Michael said. “That’s why even at events like Jupiter (PG WWBA World Championship) we have some of our underclassmen come along, not necessarily with any expectations to play … but they’re getting a taste of it so they can keep teaching the generations to come.”

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