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Nomar voices love for Fenway faithful

Nomar voices love for Fenway faithful

BOSTON -- Nomar Garciaparra walked into the Fenway Park interview room on Monday sporting a grin from ear to ear. After taking his seat before a sizable media contingent, he glanced out at the crowd with a playful smile.

"How you guys doing?" he asked.

The sheer joy on his face said it all. Now a member of the Oakland A's, Garciaparra had returned to his baseball roots. And he couldn't have been happier.

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Nearly five years have passed since the iconic shortstop was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in a 2004 blockbuster trade that sparked the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. But memories of his days in Boston remain vivid.

"My appreciation for this place has never stopped," said Garciaparra, who led off the second inning to a rousing ovation from the Fenway faithful, who adored him for so many years.

"On the field, I gave it everything I had," he said. "That's one thing I know the fans here have always appreciated. My mentality every time I put on that uniform was to win for this wonderful city."

Perhaps no player in Red Sox history resonated with fans like Garciaparra, who fought back tears during a 20-minute pregame address on Monday. He left no doubt that his Boston supporters will forever hold a special place in his heart.

"I love them," Garciaparra said. "I don't how else to put it to the fans that I love them, and the way they treated me the whole time I was here. I can't tell them how much that meant to me."

Garciaparra called Boston home from 1996-2004, authoring a decorated career with the Red Sox that included a Rookie of the Year Award (1997), two American League batting titles ('99, 2000) and five All-Star nominations ('97, '99, '00, '02, '03).

Arguably the greatest shortstop in franchise history, he batted .323 with 178 home runs and 690 RBIs in 966 career games with Boston.

"He played here for a long time and did a lot of good things," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "He was all business."

Though Garciaparra wasn't on the field when the Sox clinched their famed 2004 championship in St. Louis, he maintained a close connection to the team during its historic run.

"I felt so much a part of it, and that's what people don't realize," he said. "I was getting phone calls from guys on the team celebrating after wins. It was a championship season, not just a series. And I was a part of that season."

Thirteen years after breaking into the Major Leagues, the 35-year-old Garciaparra knows the end of his playing days is near. He admitted to being "on the verge of retirement" last offseason, and recently learned that he was born with a genetic condition making him susceptible to injury.

Asked if he had any regrets about his time in Boston, Garciaparra just laughed. Playing for the Red Sox was always his dream, one he wishes never had to end.

"From the minute I put the uniform on, I wanted to start my career in Boston and end my career in Boston," Garciaparra said. "I still have that dream. The only difference is I wasn't supposed to put on another uniform. But that dream is still there.

"I can look in the mirror and take pride in the fact that I did everything I could with a good conscience, a good heart and everything I had. Hopefully I showed just how much I respect this game."

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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