SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Nomar Garciaparra remembers players in Major League Baseball clubhouses gathering around the television watching the Little League World Series.
Garciaparra recalls watching the sons of former teammates Dante Bichette and Mike Stanley play in Williamsport and being in a Colorado restaurant on a trip to play the Rockies and requesting a change of television channels so he could view the games while he ate dinner.
When it was time for Garciaparra, a U.S. Olympian before his MLB career, to transition from playing baseball for a living to talking about it, he had another request — this time for his new employers, ESPN.
“I wanted to cover it,” said Garciaparra, who worked for the network on Baseball Tonight and in other capacities after his 2010 retirement. “When I signed with ESPN, I asked if there was any chance I could cover the Little League World Series. I love the event. I think it is such a fun event.”
Garciaparra had already been one of the lead analysts in Williamsport three times when it became time for another of those requests this year.
|Nomar Garciaparra steps to the plate during a game on June 18, 1992.|
The 1992 U.S. Olympian and 14-year major leaguer left ESPN and became part of the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast team this year on KLAC radio as well as pre- and post-game shows on SportsNet LA. Garciaparra negotiated the rights to join ESPN for two weeks in late August for its Little League coverage from Williamsport.
Garciaparra grew up playing Little League Baseball in California and went on to become a six-time All-Star who won consecutive American League batting titles in 1999 and 2000.
This year, Garciaparra was the color commentator on 13 games in eight days.
“I always thought that things on a bucket list for a baseball fan would be to go check out a College World Series and to go check out the Little League World Series,” said Garciaparra, who played in a College World Series final while at Georgia Tech and has since worked as a broadcaster there as well. “I call (Williamsport) the Disneyland of baseball.
“The environment; the attitude all around it; it’s all about enjoying the game. It’s about kids having a good time. … You see the genuine fun and excitement they have when they’re playing baseball, which is what Little League is supposed to be about and it shows.”
In Williamsport, the field is split into two eight-team halves, featuring U.S. teams and international representatives.
The Garciaparra household is no stranger to international competition.
As an amateur, Garciaparra went 4-for-20 (.200) while playing shortstop in seven of nine games at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, where the United States finished fourth.
Garciaparra’s wife, Mia Hamm, played in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games and, as the country’s all-time international goal-scoring leader until Abby Wambach passed her last year, is one of the women most responsible for the surge in interest in women’s soccer around the country.
“I went to Spain to get to play in the Olympics in Barcelona, which was great and I got to play in Cuba, which is an experience I’ll never forget,” said Garciaparra, who spent the majority of his career as a Boston Red Sox shortstop before also playing with the Chicago Cubs, Dodgers and Oakland Athletics. “Most Olympians they always remember the opening ceremonies and I’m the same. Things like that, I’ll never forget.”
Baseball, along with softball, was dropped from the Olympic program after the 2008 Games. The sport’s viability internationally is on display on the Little League level.
“I just like looking at baseball and Little League being so global,” Garciaparra said. “That’s what is so great about it when it comes to international competition.
“Sometimes, even at the highest level, the Olympic level and the (World Baseball Classic), you get to see that some of the style of play is just different. To some degree, in Little League, you see that the style of play varies — especially when teams like Japan come in with the discipline with which they play the game and the some of the Latin American countries and the way they play the game.”
Garciaparra is aware that baseball players of all ages have some international competition options and that the Olympic Games fall in the heart of MLB season. His bigger concern is actually with getting softball back into the Olympic Games.
Knowing former Olympic softball players and being familiar with Hamm’s experiences, Garciaparra is cognizant of the meaning of the Olympic Games to women athletes whose professional sports options are not as prominent as those of a MLB player.
“I was disappointed when I found out (baseball) was no longer an Olympic sport,” he said. “You like to see the game still grow internationally and that was one way that could help.“ … I think it’s more of a tragedy that softball is no longer in the Olympics.”