Nomar, El Guapo & Little Stevie’s Pizzeria: A Love Story




I grew up something of a baseball mutt.

The closest major league markets were six hours away and the Reno Silver Sox of California League – still an hour’s drive away (one my dad patiently made with me to at least 10 games the summer of 1989) – had no Major League affiliate.

SilverSox

A group of my fourth-grade friends and I, on my ninth birthday, after watching Reno get thumped by the Visalia Oaks, waited patiently to get former first round draft pick Gary Nalls’ autograph following the game.  He waived us back toward the clubhouse, and we scattered.

Because, you know, stranger danger …

I tended to claim whatever Little League team I happened to be on in a given year. First, the Cardinals. Then the Mets and later the Tigers.

The year we got cable television, through the wonders of SportsChannel, I was able to watch a majority of the San Francisco Giants’ games.

It was an easy catch. I got a Giants hat from the sporting goods aisle in the local Raley’s and proudly pinned up a Will Clark poster (he was hitting the ball literally out of its cover under the big orange letters of the word “Willpower”).

will clark

I watched in amazement as Kevin Mitchell made his barehanded catch on Ozzie Smith’s deep shot to left and I later read Dave Dravecky’s “Comeback” about three times over the course of one summer. Matt Williams went to high school 30 minutes up the road and Shawn Estes –  to this day the highest high school draft pick ever taken out of Northern Nevada – grew up in my neighborhood.

I’d wear a hand-me-down Hutch Giants uniform to play in the back yard, far longer than I should have. It was a practice I only stopped after a friend cornered me between classes in the seventh grade, having seen me through the cyclone fencing celebrating my World Series-winning home run.

“I, uh, saw you dancing …,” he said.

That was the end of the uniform. And backyard baseball.

I liked the Giants. A lot.  I had every reason to love them. They were pretty good and they were the team of choice among most of my friends.

I gave it an honest try for a good four seasons or so. But they just weren’t my team.

I don’t know.

When high school hit, I really tried to convince myself that the Angels were my team. For every logical reason the Giants should have been, the Angels answered with none of it. But they had this:

Angels logo

And they had Fred Flintstone’s house in the outfield:

Stadium

What else could you really ask for in a team?

I wound up at the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a summer performance program in 1997.

I arrived in town July 6, the final day before the All-Star break. As it happened, the Red Sox were 17.5 games out and 10 games below .500.

The season was already an afterthought.

That summer, though, was anything but for me.

At 17, it was my first time away from my small town home on my own.

I knew no one and knew nothing of the city or my surroundings. I vividly remember wiping tears from my eyes as I tried to fall asleep my first few nights there.

I’d naively expected the Glenn Miller Orchestra crowd.

But this was not that.

They played Nirvana on their guitars … way past midnight. It took all of six hours before someone asked flat out, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

It was hot and humid. All summer. Every day. We had this miniature box fan balanced precariously on the sill of our fourth-floor window – which overlooked an A/C unit on the adjacent building.

The room smelled of cockroaches — or so my roommate from Cyprus told me. It took about four or five days before we began seeing visual proof that he was right.

The rest of the summer was spent playing whack-a-mole with the heels of our shoes against the skittering insects on the ground.

It was awful. And it was awesome.

I basically stumbled into a really great group of friends, hailing from as far away as Israel and Spain and as close to home as central California.

The musicianship there … well it was well above what I was capable of.

One roommate, he was from Brazil, hopped on a train to New York City one weekend to see his girlfriend and came back only briefly to pick up his things.

He’d transferred to Julliard.

As for me — I went there with aspirations of one day becoming a film composer. I left with much more realistic goals of becoming a journalist.

We hung out at the Christian Science Reflecting Pool frequently and wandered the streets of downtown late at night. We found our way to the Hatch Memorial Shell too, and ate probably one too many breakfasts at Dunkin’ Donuts and one too many lunches at Little Stevie’s Pizzeria.

We took ‘The T’ to Harvard Square  and swam in the Charles River at sunrise (not recommended, by the way).

Stupid kid stuff.

Fenway, though. I never made it in.

They were passing out free tickets to games at the school, like candy. I signed up for the July 26 game when Anaheim, my team after all, was in town.

The guy never showed up with the tickets.

As luck would have it, the Brian Setzer Orchestra was also in town, playing a free concert in City Hall Plaza, with 10,000 Maniacs as the opening act. So we went to that instead. It was surreal.

The Red Sox were on TV all the time. And on the radio. In the papers.

So much of the background of that summer was echoes of some rookie named Nomar, and that pitcher with the funky delivery and fluttery movement on the ball – but there’s no way a guy who threw like that could ever stick around in the big leagues …

Mo Vaughan cracked 35 home runs and drove in 98 runs that summer.

And they had Rich Garces. The man nicknamed himself El Guapo. Enough said, right?

Rich Garces

At the time, it was all more or less inconsequential to me.

Once I returned home, though, it took on a different meaning.

I remember seeing the Red Sox on ESPN, not even a week or two after I came back to Nevada. I could see the skyline in the background – the Prudential Tower and the Hancock.

The players that had been a side note, a soundtrack for most of my summer were suddenly the one remaining link to my first taste of independence, now 2,912 miles away.

I finally had a team. One that meant something.

One that would stick for the long haul.

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Joey Crandall is the editor and publisher of the Carson Valley Times online news magazine in Gardnerville, Nev. He has covered sports in Northern Nevada for 16 years. From April to October, there are approximately three hours every day where he tends to lose touch with rational thought. He can be reached at joey@carsonvalleytimes.com or found on Twitter @joeycrandall.