Sports

Nomar Garciaparra Wants You To Know Just How Great L.A. Sports Fans Are

HIGHLAND, Calif. – Every TV in the Pines Steakhouse is showing the match between LAFC and Club Léon. As Nomar Garciaparra roams from table to table to say hi and snap photos with the guests who signed up for dinner and a Q&A session, his eyes keep darting up to the screens. He’s not trying to be rude; he’s just got a vested interest as part owner of the soccer team that plays its games in Exposition Park.

The former Red Sox great may have been immortalized in an SNL sketch with Boston accents, but he’s always been a Southern California guy. He got the chance to play for the Dodgers (as a Whittier resident who played high school ball in Bellflower at St. John Bosco – where Josh Rosen and Evan Longoria also count as alums), and after retiring he and soccer great Mia Hamm (who is also part of the LAFC ownership group) took up residence in Manhattan Beach to raise their kids. Garciaparra is still around the L.A. sports scene constantly, and as an analyst for the Dodgers, stays involved in baseball constantly. There’s been no shortage of him being asked to weigh in on the Astros cheating scandal this offseason, but he seems equally – if not more – excited to talk about the prospects of the city’s ascending MLS team, which has become one of the most fiercely supported clubs in the league since being founded in late 2014.

At the Legends Dinner event in San Manuel Casino, Garciaparra sat down with UPROXX to discuss his loyalty for LAFC, the Los Angeles sports community, and the idea of “commitment to excellence” he dedicated himself to after seeing the banner when the Raiders played in Los Angeles.

Martin Rickman: Well, I got to start with the biggest news of the day. 3-0 for LAFC.

Nomar Garciaparra: That was huge. Obviously, I come to an event like this, and I want to make sure I give everybody my attention, but it’s kind of hard not to have your eye at the corner looking at it. That was a big win, obviously. Especially going over there, in Leon, and losing 2-0, to see your team, it’s really hard. But to come back, and after just one game and to be able to put up that 3-0 and then move on, that’s impressive. Hopefully that’s a precursor for what’s to come throughout the season.

I know soccer is a passion for you and has been for a long, long time. Obviously it’s now a family passion. How did you get involved in LAFC originally, and what have you seen on this team, organically, that’s just so exciting for MLS, and soccer in America in general?

I think the one getting involved was, I knew Tom Penn from our days at ESPN. We were both there at the same time, and that’s where the conversation started regarding; what do I know about teams out in L.A. that were here, the MLS, and soccer. I think he was kind of going, “what do you know?” But kind of also going, “what does your wife know?” Then he learned really quick that actually, some of the teams they were asking about, that I did know more. He was like, what? I’m like, oh, I can tell you, if you need to know, here are my connections here. I know soccer. Then he’s like “whoa,” so that was refreshing.

Then obviously the knowledge my wife has, it’s incredible, so. Everybody always thinks Mia got me into the LAFC, rather than it was actually me first that brought her in, and said, “hey, you know what, here’s this thing that’s possible and developing. I think that it would be great for us to be a part of.” Obviously, it has been great. As far as the way it has gone, the organic growth, listen, I’m one of you know nine owners that we have, there’s so many. There’s no way I can ever take credit for what has gone on there. There have been so many people behind the scenes, on the ground, the ground reps which are really creative.

The only thing that I possibly could say, from the owner’s standpoint, is that we allow them to just go do it. Like, here you go, and belief in them, maybe. But to see that we did it, people come around and say thank you, thank you. I’m like, listen, you’re welcome, but I didn’t do this. You know, you first of all your faith, but also the people who have been able be on the ground to touch them have done this, to make feel that way. They did it and I didn’t do that.

I’ve got to give them all the credit and they continued to do that. It hasn’t stopped. We have an amazing PR department, the marketing department, individuals that generally show a passion for it that also exude that passion. You see the 3252, and you see that, that they all set the tone. To me, it’s funny we came up with the colors, and it’s black and it’s gold, which is red as well. And red is one of those colors that represents heart, the heartbeat really is that 3252. There is a pulse there that’s infectious. You got to give them all the credit that they definitely deserve, and it’s amazing because some of these fans they travel, amazing, and make sure that their presence is felt and what I also love is the players appreciate it. They sincerely appreciate it and that’s great to see.

I think what’s just so astounding to me, it’s this steep growth in a city that has so many sports teams already. Like you said, there’s a heartbeat, there’s an energy to it that’s just, whether it was underserved or just connected on some base level. That trajectory is unlike a lot of things I’ve seen in sports, in a professional or amateur level.

I think there was a lot of work, like I said. Yeah, there was a lot of pre work, definitely, that went a long way. Obviously, being a part of the city also is important as well. Look at the location. We’re an iconic location. We had to tear down an iconic place in order to, and when you do that, you better bring something special. And also from an owner’s standpoint going, okay, the amount of owners that are there, but at the same time also be able to believe together. To say that there’ll always be agreements, it’s hard to say, you need disagreement or else it doesn’t grow. You need to have different ideas and then, but at the same time, when something is finally decided, to put the belief behind it and the push behind it was what has never wavered. That’s impressive. It really is when I see that from an ownership standpoint, but I think that has also shown, going out there and to be able to try to make that push. This is what you were hoping, this is what you don’t know what you really believe could happen and has. I think the message from the owner’s side is always, let’s not forget where we are and what it’s about, and who it’s about, it really has always stood out in LA and the people. We are always talking about, what do we have to do to make sure they know that. So we’ve tried and tried to continue to do that. Obviously it’s not done. It has to continue and you’ve got to continue that because they recognize that, they feel that and then they exude it. We really exude from them rather than the opposite.

Yeah, you draw from it.

Right. Most definitely it results from their passion and life and their culture, and what they’re about and hopefully we can make sure that we’re the platform so they can continue to do that.

You know with regards to this sports landscape and where you at right now, you’ve seen so much, coming from here, playing for the Dodgers and now being behind the scenes there and with LAFC. What is it about this city, and then that continued reinvestment of resources, that makes it such a great sports town? You were in Boston, you know what people say about L.A. sports fans, but then you get here and you realize, for people who don’t know, who didn’t grow up here, they’re as passionate as anyone.

You always hear that word, especially when you come up from the North with all the passion out there. I’m like, yeah, come over here and you’ll see passion. The passion is here in L.A. There’s no question about it and there’s an expectation to as well. It’s funny having seen the Dodgers and where they are. I know when I’m even talking on the air, it’s basically win the World Series or bust, it’s not get to the World Series, it’s win it. That’s huge pressure, right? But they already have that. That’s what they expect. That’s an expectation that the fans will set, but what’s great is ownership that has come into this city said they have the same expectations as us.

That’s what you hope you have. That’s what you expect from your players and all the way down. This is what we are asking of ourselves and what we’re striving to be. And the fans are there too, and they see it and they appreciate it. They come out. I looked it from a Dodgers standpoint, like you said, they question that passion for the Dodgers. I played here, I saw it every day. And then you can look at the turnstiles and they keep breaking records every day. That tells you that you can’t question it. Now on the soccer side and then seeing it. And I remember that some of the players that we had that had played in Europe. They, early on, when we first started they were like, “Oh my gosh, this feels like a European vibe.” That was a huge compliment. And obviously we know the passion is, if we can bring that and continue to do that, then that’s huge. So hopefully we’re maintaining that, but we know how to maintain it. You got to make sure it still comes from the heart.

From a Dodger standpoint, you see the continued pressure that the team has been under to win, but just how important is it to have a team that stays with that especially in an era of baseball right now where, that’s actually a pretty hard bargain for a lot of these teams because many clubs are actively saying, “you know what? We’re not going to try to win at all costs?” Even some of the traditionally bigger spenders.

It’s like, okay, how do you rebuild? Or hey, we’re going to take some time off to rebuild and they get there and now that we got there, okay, then this is what happens. I think there could be a misconception of how hard that really is. And I think you have to give a lot of credit to the ownership of what they’ve done for the Dodgers. But regardless, it’s amazing. You can have seven straight division [titles], but everyone’s like you still haven’t won. And what’s interesting is it’s very valid and fair to say, and the owners will say it’s valid and fair to say too.

I think also there’s that marriage that also helps because I think fans are expecting this but they also see that the owners expect it and that they’re going, okay wow they are doing something about it. Or they will show that and they’re going to continue in that there is a well thought out plan. They’re not just going to jump and give in to the pressures that everyone says they have to. We still want to do that because we want to be relevant for a long period of time.

And I understand to some degree the payroll in the market that they may be allowed certain things. But just because that allows you doesn’t mean you can do it, right? And they have, and I give them a lot of credit for what they’ve done. And I think they recognize that and it’s still going to be difficult. I guarantee you they’ll say we still don’t have the magic formula, but there’s a continued strive for excellence that they have. And it’s funny because I remember growing up in L.A., I remember when the Raiders were in town. I remember looking at the Coliseum’s “commitment to excellence.”

It was such an amazing theme that I would always see at the Coliseum and when you see that it’s like, all right, now that the Raiders are gone and stuff, but honestly, that is an amazing, just statement, it’s two words that have still, when I look at L.A. and we talk about L.A. sports. That in essence is what it has been about. I was told one time that striving for perfection is demoralizing, striving for excellence is motivating. So that commitment to excellence says so much and I think a lot of the teams in L.A. have taken that to heart, to see that from the Raiders. I used to see that so much, but it was almost just a message that why don’t we, as a city, feel that way and then do that.

Do you think that that had an impact on you personally, especially with your work ethic and everything that you did now, heading into what you do as a parent, which had become such a big part of your overall teaching. You don’t want to be perfect at one thing, because then it undercuts the overall experience. You have to try to be well rounded, you have to try and be excellent. But it’s excellence in all that you do.

I get asked the question of what it really takes, I get that all the time. Everybody thinks there’s a simple thing, right? There’s a formula. It’s 10,000 hours, isn’t it? And you’re going to be excellent. It takes 10,000 hours and I always laugh, and I even wrote it down, I said, have you ever done the math of that? Of the 10,000 hours?

I think I did the math. It was basically, I gave you a day off, I said it was like six days a week for three hours for like 12 years, 13 right? So it goes back to what I also said is you better love it. It’s finding that passion within and looking at yourself that, hey this is my expectation of myself. So yes, we do tell our kids this is a commitment. We’re not going to be perfect, like you said, if you strive for that, it can be definitely detrimental to your growth and whatever you do. So we can always strive and commit to be excellent every single day, in everything we’re doing, and don’t take anything for granted.

Every day is a day to get better. Every day is a day to build. Nothing should be wasted in your day just to do this. There there should be a purpose behind it. And I think that’s what we believe. I looked at my wife, that’s the only way we knew and how we do that, we’ll continue to strive and we’re going to make mistakes along the way and learn from those. And you better, you better or else you won’t learn. But that’s all part of the fun journey.

I mean that was the biggest lesson that I had to learn recently was just allowing myself to be okay with making those mistakes. Because so much of it is wanting perfection rather than excellence. And I think the second you learn that, that growth comes in as a human being, and then the ability to then impact others, I mean there’s so many dividends.

When you finally get to that realization is that, you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. It’s a game changer.

What got you into wine? Especially with you having so much great wine here in California?

I’m grateful to the veterans that I played with. They got me into it. People don’t realize that with baseball players, we usually play at dinner time. We play every day at dinner time. So the times we don’t, there’s very few, and we maybe have a day game traveling the city and then finally get into a place where you can sit down and have dinner. Veterans would always go to these great restaurants and I was the guy who always said yes to a veteran, whatever they said, as a rookie. I was smart. I said, yes sir, yes sir, yes sir. So they would invite me to these things, I was there and then they were like, “what are you going to have to drink? He’s going to have wine.”

And then I started drinking the wine they were serving me. But this was good. Let me learn about it. I can’t afford what they’re buying. But I want to know. So I started befriending a sommelier and that’s where the growth started. And then the studying, and I would read, and I would talk to sommeliers on a regular basis and it hasn’t stopped. Having a collection and going and buying. But the way I looked at wine, it’s very similar to baseball. What I mean by that is, if somebody tells you they know everything about baseball, I will tell you to turn around and walk away, because you can never know. Even now, as much as long as I’ve played, I’m still learning about this beautiful game. It’s a beautiful, amazing game and I’m constantly learning. Somebody tells me they know everything about wine, turn around and walk away, walk away. It’s the same thing. Wow, there’s so much to learn and constantly grow with. It’s both, to me wine is both an art and a science coming together to produce something amazing.

And that’s where the passion is. It continues to grow and it’s fun. So I love it. I love how people ask me, what’s your favorite? I said I don’t discriminate. I go, It depends on my mood. I go, it depends on my mood. What the drink is warranted at that moment, I want to have. So I embrace that.

Do you have a tip for anyone who is, maybe, a little bit intimidated? Or trying to get into wine?

It’s funny, there’s, there’s a lot of different tips I can give and that’s what’s fun when I do talk about wine. What I always tell people is, sommeliers at restaurants are actually there to help you, not to intimidate you. Their job is not to just to give you the most expensive wine. They want to enhance your experience so you come back to the restaurant. That’s their job. So I tell people my biggest tip is whenever you sit down for a meal, you instinctively have a price point that you are willing to spend on your bottle of wine. Don’t be afraid to tell the sommelier your price. Let them know. They are actually looking forward to it. So they can enhance your experience. That’s probably my biggest tip.

Do you want to know how many times I’ve gotten a bottle that is not on their list? Oh I have something that’s not even on the list, we can’t list it because we don’t have many bottles of this one, or we used to serve it and we have one left. Absolutely. That’s what it’s about and that’s what makes it fun. So that would be my advice. Don’t be intimidated and give them a price point.

I think that’s a good life lesson. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know I don’t know everything, just ask my wife.

This interview has been briefly condensed and edited for clarity.

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