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.400 Reasons
Tom Verducci
March 05, 2001
WHY does Boston's Normar Garciaparra torture his body every off-season with a training regimen that is both cruel and unusual? BECAUSE he believes it will ultimately help him reach the hitter's holy grail
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March 05, 2001

.400 Reasons

WHY does Boston's Normar Garciaparra torture his body every off-season with a training regimen that is both cruel and unusual? BECAUSE he believes it will ultimately help him reach the hitter's holy grail

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GARCIAPARRA

JETER

RODRIGUEZ

Batting

.326 (1)

.321 (2)

.300 (5)

Hits

198 (2)

204 (1)

177 (3)

Doubles

41 (1)

31 (4)

33 (T2)

Home runs

31 (2)

18 (3)

36 (1)

RBIs

108 (1)

85 (3)

106 (2)

Runs

112 (2)

126 (1)

111 (3)

Slugging pct.

.571 (1)

.478 (3)

.546 (2)

On-base pct.

.371 (3)

.397 (2)

.356 (7)

Fielding pct.

.968 (16)

.979 (6)

.972 (13)

Chances

660 (T4)

660 (T4)

656 (7)

Double plays

84 (10)

85 (8)

92 (5)

One vital bit of information is missing as Nomar Garciaparra stands in the on-deck circle for his first at bat of a game. Otherwise, the Boston Red Sox shortstop is as finely prepped and calibrated as a piece of NASA machinery.

He has pumped what was once a six-foot beanpole frame into a 190-pound coiled steel spring of explosive power, with a scant 6% body fat. He has built his body and, by extension, his career with a five-hour-a-day off-season regimen—an ordeal that would exhaust a sled dog—in which he endures the tortures of Simon Legree devices (you try fielding grounders while strapped to three hightension bungee cords), lifts weights with NFL linemen and gulps two precisely mixed protein shakes a day. (The morning serving is 325 calories, the afternoon dose 487, thanks to an extra 40 grams of malto-dextrin, a starchy chemical used in beer brewing.)

Once the season begins, his mental preparation for each game is an all-day task. "My very first thought when I wake up is the game that night," Garciaparra says. "There is a feeling in my body that begins right away, knowing I have to prepare myself. If it's an off day, my body feels totally different when I wake up."

Sweat and science have made Garciaparra, 27, perhaps the toughest out in baseball and, according to Ted Williams himself, the first man in 60 years who could hit .400. Yet with all that meticulous preparation, something is still missing as Garciaparra strides into the on-deck circle for his first at bat. It is then that he will look at the opposing pitcher for the first time. Only then will he think, Oh, we're facing a lefthander today.

The first righthanded hitter since Joe DiMaggio to win back-to-back American League batting titles, the first righthander to hit as high as .372 since DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939, and the beloved sachem of Red Sox Nation often has no clue whom he's facing until he is heading for the batter's box. "It happens many times," says Garciaparra. "My attitude about that is pretty simple. It doesn't matter who's out there. If I'm swinging the bat real good, I feel like I should hit anybody. And if I'm not, anyone can get me out. I don't watch much video. If I do, it's to look at myself. I never study pitchers."

More laborer than savant, Garciaparra sees baseball as a game of will. He will get better; he will get stronger. Pitchers, the Boston media (which he advises new teammates to ignore), even All-Star Games, which he has loathed at every' level because they glorify individual play, are extraneous forces that only complicate his simple desire to improve himself.

He is a skilled drone who lives by a monk's devotion to order and routine, including his batting glove-tugging, toe-tapping Arthur Murray act in the batter's box before every pitch. With the momentum of a sprinter after busting through the tape, he keeps showing up at Fenway Park for days after each season ends. Furthermore, don't even think of touching one of his many favorite caps that he keeps around his family's La Habra Heights, Calif., home. "He knows exactly where he left them and how he left them," says his brother, Michael, 17, "and if you just do this"—Michael gendy fingers the brim of his own cap—"he gets real mad."

In this religion of repetition, the gym has become Garciaparra's house of worship, his meticulously scripted workouts his canon. His epiphany came after his 1995 season with the Double A Trenton ( N.J.) Thunder, when his 155-pound body was so worn down after only 125 games that he didn't bother going home. Instead, he drove straight to Bradenton, Fla., to work with Mark Verstegen, a trainer he'd known since Garciaparra played at Georgia Tech. When Garciaparra walked through the door of his home three months and 15 pounds of muscle later, his mother gasped. "Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "You're not my little baby anymore!"

The next spring at the Red Sox training camp, before he was assigned to Triple A Pawtucket ( R.I.), his fly balls carried over walls and his line drives shot through gaps. Hallelujah! He was a believer. Each spring since, Garciaparra has returned stronger to the team's camp in Fort Myers, Fla. After new Boston pitcher David Cone saw him for the first time in the clubhouse at spring training last week, the righthander remarked, "The guy is ripped. What I noticed was the presence he has on this team. When he walks into the room, you know it."

Spring training, with its rote and repetition, suits Garciaparra. He fields grounders nearly every day with a Little League-sized glove, which he says forces him to stay low for every ball and prevents laziness that can creep into such fielding drills. He takes batting practice with gamelike intensity.

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