The whole scene arrived in the middle of a week when the story of the Prodigal Son is the lectionary passage, about as gift wrapped as a sermon illustration could be. Nomar Garciaparra, longtime and well-loved shortstop for the Boston Red Sox who was traded away, came home day before last, to retire. Though the terms under which he left in the summer of 1974 were not good at all, and it was the October that followed – and perhaps, in part, because of the trade – that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years.
He has traveled to California and Chicago and back to California, trying to find his place. I must also say, for the record, that the Sox haven’t had a steady shortstop since. Every time Nomar came back to Boston, regardless of the colors he was wearing, the Fenway Faithful gave him a long standing ovation. We loved Nomar, even from afar. Besides, he was the only player we ever had whose name rhymed with homer, as in, “Come in Nomar, hit a homer.” (It has to be done in a heavy Boston accent – “Come on, Nomah, hit a homah” – and it rhymes the same way country singers think rain rhymes with string.)
Nomar knew it was time to retire and he also wished he could retire in his Red Sox uniform. Spring training is in full swing, and he is not playing for anyone. So the Sox offered him a contract: a one day, minor league contract that allowed him to become a part of the organization once again, and then he retired, at home. He’s happy and all those folks (like Ginger) who still have their Garciaparra t-shirts can wear them again. Nomar belongs to us. Period.
“The dream to play baseball in the big leagues started here,” he said at his news conference held at City of Palms Park before the Red Sox played a spring training game. “I really wanted to have that be the last uniform I ever put on.”
As I was walking home tonight from the restaurant, I found myself humming a soundtrack to my thoughts about Nomar’s last homestand:
and I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors and that’s why I love you
so don’t be afraid to let them show
you true colors true colors
are beautiful like the rainbow
In the King James version of the story in Luke, it says the prodigal son “came to himself” as he was feeding the pigs and realized it was time to go home for good. He realized he was prodigal, as in wastefully extravagant, and he had used himself all up, along with his possessions. The dictionary offers a second definition for prodigal: “giving in abundance; lavish or profuse.” We might also use the same adjective for the father, who welcomed his son home with extravagant forgiveness and a barbeque to boot. They shared a propensity for extravagance; the father, however, knew how to spend himself in love. Such were his true colors.
Yes, I’m a Sox fan and I know I might be stretching the story a bit here, still I’m willing to stretch because one of ours that got lost has come home. He was humble enough to ask and the Red Sox ownership were generous enough to find a way to make it work. What it means for Red Sox Nation is, when we tell our stories (and we do tell stories), we can say he is one of us. Whatever happened between 2004 and now is what happened, but the real story is he came home. And my guess is it was no different at the Prodigal Household in the parable. As they bit into the brisket, they told stories, too, of how the boy had run away, and how the father had pined at the front door day after day. “And then you came home,” someone said. And they laughed and cried and told the story again, talking, I’m sure, with their mouths full.
We are at our best with our arms wide open. It’s true for both Bible and baseball.