Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Just Say 'Nomar'

The secret appeal of the man with the schnozz

By Leslie Robarge

JUNE 5, 2000:  One night last December, an organization called the Massachusetts Sports Partnership held the 1999 Celebration of Sport at the Massachusetts State House. After Governor Paul Cellucci and Mayor Tom Menino gave their speeches and presented the awards, the crowd milled about the function room, snacking on the free food, gulping down the free drinks. Celtics captain Antoine Walker stood at the bar while munching on popcorn and sipping a Coke. No one bothered him for an autograph. Up near the stage, Bruce Armstrong of the Patriots joked around with some men in suits. Ray Bourque, still a Bruin, was somewhere in the room signing a couple of peewee hockey sticks for gushing fathers. Nobody paid any attention to the New England Revolution player standing in the main entrance with his girlfriend, looking lost.

That's because everyone's attention was on the dark-eyed 26-year-old holding court in the corner of the room: Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Accompanied by a coterie of security guards, Nomar was dressed in an expensive camel-colored suit and was having a hard time making a premature exit from the event. Television crews flocked around him. People shoved forward paper, photographs, anything for him to sign. Politicians vied for photo ops.

And the women! The conservatively dressed State House and corporate types had doffed their suit jackets to reveal bare shoulders and vulnerable necklines. They were having such a hard time muffling squeals, you would have thought that David Duchovny and R. Kelly were on the bill to do an hour of Chippendales dancing. Simply by showing up, Nomar had whipped up a certifiable estrogen frenzy.

All this fuss was for a soft-spoken, ample-nosed Californian who has unquestionably become Boston's most desired male athlete. Nomar Garciaparra may seem like the most unlikely of hunks, but he's the reason why women who ordinarily could not care less about baseball are following the Sox as though they were the Backstreet Boys. Yes, it's cheesy. But Nomar Garciaparra is a big-time baseball crush, the kind this city has not had in a long, long time.

Alexa Moutevelis, a 16-year-old sophomore at Reading Memorial High, knows a lot about sports. But she knows more about Nomar.

"The only thing I don't know about Nomar is his shoe size," she says.

Moutevelis, who frequently appears on a local cable-access sports talk show, has been a Patriots fan ever since she can remember. She says she never thought twice about the Red Sox until she saw Nomar on television two years ago, playing against the Seattle Mariners. Moutevelis admits that she was watching the game to see Ken Griffey Jr., but when she saw Nomar, "I was like, who is that shortstop?"

When Moutevelis says that she knows everything about Nomar, she's got proof. Along two walls in her bedroom she has carefully aligned and pasted magazine clippings and posters (each in a protective plastic covering). She has Nomar with Pedro. Nomar batting. Nomar with Mia Hamm. Her favorite is a black-and-white of Nomar with his shirt off. She has newspaper clippings of Nomar dating two years back. She has a signed baseball, she tapes all his television appearances, and she keeps a pencil drawing of Nomar that her friend traced from a headshot in a magazine. She's thinking of trying out for the MTV show FANatic.

Moutevelis has a sharp, dry sense of humor and speaks openly and easily about anything having to do with Nomar. On his weight: "He works out in Arizona in the off-season. He has gained 30 pounds in the last three years. I don't know if that means he's using steroids. It's something to be concerned about."

On his love life: "There were rumors about Lauren Holly [the actress]. I hope they're not true. She's 37. I can't compete with that."

On his well-known toe-tapping, glove-adjusting pre-batting routine: "It brings attention to him, and the announcers will usually give little anecdotes on him. I mean, if he wasn't doing anything then the cameras wouldn't be on him. Any attention to him is good."

On his soccer ability: "There's a story where he kicked a soccer ball from home plate over the Green Monster."

Me: "That can't be true."

Moutevelis: "I don't know. It's Nomar."

On New York Yankee Derek Jeter: "I hate him."

If there is one thing that makes Moutevelis stammer when talking about Nomar, it is the mention of Jeter, the Yankee shortstop who rivals Nomar in fielding and hitting and who enjoys a similar level of female popularity. And who dated Mariah Carey.

The intrinsic bloodcurdling loathing Nomar fans feel for Jeter goes beyond the obvious Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. One of Moutevelis's posters depicts the six power shortstops in baseball. Derek Jeter's photo is at the top left of the poster, covered with little yellow stickies that say UGLY! and GROSS! Some even spell out sentences: LORD HELP US ALL!!!!

It's difficult for many Nomar fans to articulate why, exactly, they hate Jeter. Descriptions of their feelings range from simple disgust to downright hatred. I've heard he looks like a "pudgy 12-year-old boy." One woman used the simple-yet-effective "icky" to describe him.

Moutevelis is more colorful in her assessment: "He's really ugly. I hate his fans. They think he's so great and the best shortstop. I don't think anybody but New Yorkers think he's the best shortstop. I would never pick Derek Jeter over Nomar. Did you see that stupid Skippy commercial he's in?"

It's been a long time since New England fans went gaga over a local player with the same kind of excitement that's usually reserved for pop stars and movie heartthrobs. Think about it. The closest thing in recent history was Cam Neely. He's retired. New England Revolution player Alexi Lalas got some attention because he was soft-spoken, played guitar, and had interesting facial hair. But he got traded. Drew Bledsoe? When he's not crowd-surfing, he's married. The great Larry Bird?

I'll stop right there.

Why such feelings? It probably starts with the fact that Nomar is one of the most exciting players in baseball. He's one of the American League's leaders in the key offensive areas: RBIs, batting average, and home runs. He was last year's American League batting champion and Red Sox MVP, and he's got character: he's famous for giving his all on the field and coming though with clutch hits. Along with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the Mariners, Nomar is part of a trio of shortstops who dominate both defensively and offensively in a way that the league has not seen in a long time, if ever.

Plus, by baseball standards, he's homegrown talent. Though he grew up in California and played baseball at Georgia Tech, Nomar joined the Sox' farm system in 1996 and has been with the club ever since. He also donates a generous amount of time to his charity, the Nomar 5 Fund.

These are good reasons to respect him as a player and as a person. But according to Julie Guilbert, a Worcester native and a senior at Trinity College, what has really helped Nomar become so popular with the ladies doesn't have so much to do with his game or his playing history.

"He has a great butt," she says.

Ah, yes. The Garciaparra gluteus. Guilbert herself uses a picture of Nomar and Pedro hugging as the background wallpaper on her computer monitor; she says it's the only photo she's been able to find that has an undisturbed view of Nomar's tush.

But that's where Nomar's physical assets seem to end. His fans happily admit that Nomar doesn't exactly look like your average J. Crew model. His face is long, and his skin is sometimes sallow. One woman I used to work with says she thinks he has the face of a factory worker in the early 1900s, in one of those old sepia-toned photographs. His nose is also a point of discussion. It is long and sweeps downward, not at all a traditionally handsome schnozz.

Red Sox enthusiast Buffy Lord, 29, doesn't think his popularity is all about looks.

"He's not attractive, but he's very sexy. I mean, he's not traditionally handsome, but he carries this incredible attraction. I was just telling them" -- she nods to her friends -- "the last time I was here [at Fenway Park], he was stretching, and I was like, 'Oh my.' It was just amazing. I don't know many women who could stretch like that. Just the nicest butt. Beautiful butt."

Okay, it all comes back to the butt, but what about that nose?

"Oh, I think it gives him character. Like Harrison Ford. His nose is crooked, but women love him anyway," says June O'Keefe from Beverly.

What is also apparent about Nomar is that he seems to enjoy the attention without getting too cocky. People who've met him say he's genuinely affable. Boston native and fashion designer Joseph Abboud used Nomar as a model for a show last year at the Mall at Chestnut Hill and says that what makes Nomar so popular is his "honesty, sincerity, and charm."

Pebbles, co-host of the morning show on Jam'n 94.5, is an outspoken Nomar fan who has a picture of herself and Nomar posted on the Jam'n Web site. The caption reads: "It's Pebbles and her future 'Husband' Nomar Garciaparra from the Boston Red Sox!" Although she never met Nomar in person until last year, she had previously interviewed him a couple of times on the radio show. She says that she wasn't sure what to expect, but that "he is one of the nicest guys you would ever want to talk to."

Okay, so Nomar is a nice guy. So Nomar has a great butt and does a lot of charity work. So what? The real question that Nomar's fans want answered is the question he is famous for avoiding: who is he dating?

No one really knows, according to Laura Raposa, one of the Boston Herald's "Inside Track" columnists. She says there are rumors about Lauren Holly, but she doesn't think they are true.

"She seems too glitzy, too glamorous for him," she says.

There has also been some talk about Mia Hamm, says Raposa, but there's nothing solid with that, either.

Unfortunately, Nomar couldn't be reached for comment.

Nevertheless, for fans such as Moutevelis, who take everything about Number Five's life to heart, this ambiguity is a real problem. Especially since he's the reason Moutevelis watches baseball at all. So what will happen if Nomar ever decides to tie the knot?

"I would have to prepare myself for that. I mean, it's going to be coming soon. He's almost 27. I'd rather not think about it, but I really do have to be prepared. I will not like that at all," she says, her voice trailing off. "I would like it if he has a girlfriend and everybody knows it and can see it coming. Not just all of a sudden he gets married. I need to ease into that."

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