August 3, 2007

THE HANDSOME MAN:

Handsome return: Ex-Sox reliever Garces is the pride of Nashua -- and hopes to get back to the majors (Stan Grossfeld, August 3, 2007, Boston Globe)

It's four hours before game time and Holman Stadium is nearly deserted. In the parking lot, the young Nashua Pride players -- born in the 1980s -- arrive in carpool style, chatting about their girlfriends, cheap restaurants, and the lack of 34-inch bats in stock.

It's Tom Brady Baby Bib Night, the forecast is for showers, and Rich Gedman's Worcester Tornadoes are in town for the June 24 CanAm (Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball) League game. Inside the nifty old ballpark, a girl methodically wipes seats and picnic tables. On the outfield track, a solitary figure runs between the BBQ picnic area in left field and the Fried Dough sign just outside the Pride clubhouse door in right.

Sweat glistens from El Guapo (the Handsome One), a.k.a. Rich Garces, who waves, smiles, and does another lap. This is no publicity stunt: Garces (and his XXL jersey) has landed in the Granite State to launch a comeback.

When last seen in 2002, El Guapo -- named by Red Sox teammates for his resemblance to the villain in the movie "Three Amigos" -- was a cult hero at Fenway Park. In seven seasons with the Red Sox from 1996-2002, he compiled a 23-8 record, a remarkable .742 winning percentage. In 1999, he had an ERA of just 1.55. He started the 2000 season with eight straight wins and a love affair with fans, who celebrated his entrance into a game by bowing toward the bullpen. Part of his mystique came from his appearance -- the Everyman beer belly but the heart of a lion and a nasty fastball that made believers of the Fenway faithful and sometimes fools of American League batters.

Now as Guapo runs, Pride staff members unpack Bobble Belly figurines to be given to the first 2,000 fans attending last Thursday's "El Guapo Bobble Belly Night." The figurines, which wiggle only at the belly, must have puzzled the assembly line workers at the Bobblehead factory. But it's guaranteed to boost Pride attendance, which had been last in the league but is rising steadily with the addition of Garces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2007 7:05 AM
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