Take a guess at how many homers Nomar Garciaparra has next to his name, after 14 MLB seasons, nine of them with Boston, another three with the Dodgers.
Two hundred and twenty nine. A career-best 35 came in the ’98 season. Twenty more in his first Dodgers season, 2006, which earned him a late addition to the MLB All Star game.
He’s been in two MLB All-Star Game Home Run Derbys (linked here). In 1999 at Fenway, he hit two and didn’t get out of the first round (Ken Griffey Jr. won it with 16, even though Mark McGwire had 13 in the first round and ran out of gas). In 1997 at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, he had zero.
He also competed in the 2000 MLB Home Run contest held at Cashman Field in Las Vegas, having to go up against Manny Ramirez in the opening round of an event that included McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmiero, Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Shawn Green. The results of that one, maybe lost forever (OK, Canseco won, but he later admitted that’s when he got Bonds to think about juicing up for the second half of his career).
Any advice Nomar might have for the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, his 2008 L.A. teammate, who is entering the Home Run Derby for the first time in Phoenix on Monday as one of four National Leaguers picked?
“I think the hardest thing and the important thing is you’ve got to be big and strong for this event. It is totally different when you’re in batting practice you can kind of get into rhythm. The pitcher’s throwing the ball and you’re going. In batting practice they say don’t look at the ball. You’re supposed to just hit. You can kind of get in that rhythm.
“Here it’s swing, watch, sit back in the box, let’s swing as hard as you can again. Step out, get back in the box. That is difficult to do as a hitter. That takes a lot of sheer strength bodywise all through the body.
“When I look at the way Matt Kemp is built, he has that. So I think he’ll be all right. The difficult thing is to get away from all the emotion that’s surrounding it. Get away from the anxiety, because that is all going to be a part of it. You realize there are thousands and thousands of people in the stands. All they’re doing is focused on you and watching. All eyes are on you in this one swing and every one you do.
“I know it’s like that during the season, but this is a totally different way to do it. There are nerves, anxiety, adrenaline, and you have to combat all of that, especially for your first time. But I think he has the body and strength to do it.”
And doing this isn’t going to ruin his swing? Is that overrated?
“I think so,” Garciaparra said. “I think the AllStar’s just a unique thing. When you do that, you go out there and swing and swing hard. At this level to be successful if you’re an AllStar, you know what you have to do to get back on track.”
Adds John Kruk, who with Garciaparra will be part of the broadcast team on ESPN for the event on Monday (5 p.m.): “I agree with Nomar. I think every player that’s ever played from a guy that hits two home runs a year to a guy that hits 50 home runs a year, they have a point in batting practice where they’re trying to hit home runs.
“Tony Gwynn every once in a while would try to do it too, and he used to hit .380 every year. Didn’t do too much to his swing.”