Joe Lavin

October 2007

From Boston Sports Review

The El Guapo/Obama Ticket

You have to hand it to Rich Garces. He's no longer in the Majors, but he may be the only pitcher who has his own sponsor for every appearance. Whenever he pitched this year for the independent league Nashua Pride, fans heard this announcement: "El Guapo is brought to you by the New Hampshire Business Resource Center in Concord."

Of course, this may be the future of sports, and one can hope that El Guapo will have a more suitable -- or at least catchier -- sponsor next year. You have to wonder where Dunkin Donuts was in all this. This is the company who once signed Nomar Garciaparra, who has probably never had a donut in his life, to an endorsement deal, but here's El Guapo, the perfect spokesperson for a donut company, and they completely drop the ball.

Garces is now the closer for the Nashua Pride of the Can-Am League, and last month, during one of the final games of their season, I was lucky enough to see him pitch. The Nashua Pride have had other former Red Sox players on their team including Sam Horn, Paxton Crawford, and even current manager Butch Hobson. But none have created quite the stir that Garces has.

Driving up to Holman Stadium, the first thing I saw was a gigantic banner with his picture. When I entered the park, a woman was sitting right next to the turnstiles selling posters of him, and at the concession stands, you could even order an El Guapo Steak Sub for $6.50. (I would give you a review, but, in the true spirit of the event, I had already consumed a sausage, a beer, and some fried dough. I don't think I could have handled an El Guapo Steak Sub too.)

Other players have bobblehead dolls, but who else has a bobble-belly doll? July 26th was El Guapo Night, and the first 2,000 fans received a free El Guapo bobble-belly doll. Vendors are still selling them, though now you have to shell out $20 to get one.

Lately, Rich Garces has been a candidate for the President of Red Sox Nation. (Actual platform: A bobble-belly in every Nation household, wider seats at Fenway, and the return of the bullpen car.) However, on this night, he wasn't the only presidential candidate present. Illinois Senator Barack Obama was also at the game campaigning for a somewhat lesser presidency in Washington.

Not that the senator really saw much of the game. He started greeting voters beyond left field about an hour beforehand, and it was the third inning by the time he even made it to his seat. By the sixth inning, he was gone, taking with him an entire section of supporters and press.

Obama does like baseball. In fact, he's a White Sox fan, who shrewdly revealed to the voters there that he always roots against the Yankees. But sadly, no one told him that there's no point in going to a Nashua Pride game and leaving before El Guapo pitches. Then again, maybe it was good he left early. During the ninth, his chances for the nomination might have been seriously undermined by a line drive foul that was smoked right into his section.

As for the game itself, everything was lined up perfectly. Nashua's very own Japanese ace Akira Okamoto, affectionately known as "A-OK," pitched a solid game, and Nashua brought a 4-3 lead into the ninth. That's when Garces entered the game in search of his 16th save.

El Guapo looked just like you remember him, though according to the official manning the radar gun, he only throws about 87-88 MPH now. Still, against this competition, that was more than enough. Three batters later, and he had the save. The game ended on a called third strike. The batter before that popped out. And, in the highlight of the night, the first batter hit a dribbler to first, forcing Garces to cover first base.

As we all know, there is no play in sports quite like El Guapo covering first. There was bobbling-a-plenty, but the big guy made it, and the runner was out. Look out Fenway -- and we mean look out -- El Guapo could be on his way back.

©2007 Joe Lavin
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