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Stepping up to the plate

Young Red Sox fans weigh in on trade talk

BRAINTREE -- At the very moment 13-year-old Chris Chaisson walked into a sporting goods here with his father, Nomar Garciaparra was on the radio, insisting he wants to stay with the Red Sox and expressing particular concern about the impact on his young fans of reports he might be traded.

 

But Garciaparra's concern was misplaced, as far as Chaisson was concerned. The Walpole seventh-grader is not perturbed by the prospect that the Sox shortstop and outfielder Manny Ramirez could leave Boston as a consequence of the team's bid to obtain Texas Rangers superstar Alex Rodriguez. In fact, Chaisson said, he'd go even further than the Sox are reportedly willing to go to get Rodriguez, considered the best all-around player in baseball.

"I'd trade Nomar and Manny straight up for A-Rod," Chaisson declared. In the brisk, unsentimental manner of a future general manager, he ticked off the reasons: Rodriguez "is a franchise player," Ramirez doesn't always play hard, and Garciaparra "didn't do too well in the playoffs. . . . He just couldn't hit for power."

Yet while some youngsters who have cheered loudly and often for Nomah and Man-nee are training their tonsils to chant the magic name of A-Rod, others, such as 12-year-old Rachael Bennett of Dedham, don't even want to hear about the possibility of losing the Sox' two best hitters.

"Nomar's not going to leave, because there's tons of people who want him to stay," Bennett said as she prepared to launch her sled down a hill in Westwood. "And Manny is my favorite player: He hits good home runs, he's nice, and he's a good fielder." She set her jaw and delivered a message to the Sox brass: "You tell them if they trade Nomar and Manny, I'm going to be mad at them."

Got that, John W. Henry, Theo Epstein, and Larry Lucchino? The views of the youngest citizens of Red Sox Nation are seldom heard on sports talk radio, on the web, or in the newspapers, but they are every bit as passionate about the team as their sore-hearted, history-haunted elders. They are closely -- and in some cases, anxiously -- following every twist of the postseason potboiler that has made this the liveliest Hot Stove League in memory.

The scenario that has dominated the sports pages goes like this: The Sox trade Ramirez to Texas in return for Rodriguez, possibly as soon as this weekend at baseball's winter meetings in New Orleans. Rodriguez takes over at shortstop for Boston, and the team then trades Garciaparra. (But, of course, it could all fall through.)

In general, young fans seem less interested in the dizzying dollars at stake than in the personalities and performances of the three players at the center of the drama.

While Garciaparra has a chilly relationship with the media, he has long been a fixed star in the firmament of the young. Epitomizing hustle and attention to baseball fundamentals, he has been a player whom many Boston-area youngsters have emulated. Off the field, he's been involved in hitting clinics, a summer camp, and a charity fund.

Sheila Bennett, Rachel's mother, recalled arriving at Children's Hospital just after Garciaparra had paid a visit to young patients, leaving a ripple of excitement through the building. Her young nephew, she said, "can't even talk about" the possibility of him leaving the Sox. She said she was at Fenway Park when fans sang "Happy Birthday" to him while he waved from the field. "Nomar boosted morale for people, made them want to come to games, made them excited about it," she said. "He's got a bond with the town. And he wants to stay."

Ramirez also has his fervent supporters among the schoolyard set. "Manny should not be traded, because he's a very good hitter," said Brad Barak, 9, of Dedham. Agreed Lindsay MacDonald, 12, of Dedham: "He's a key factor on the team, so they shouldn't trade him."

However, in a reflection of the reality that baseball is a business and that ballplayers have adopted a bottom-line mentality themselves, some youngsters echo their elders in asking the hard-headed question that essentially boils down to: What have you done for me lately?

"I think they should trade Nomar. Alex Rodriguez is a lot better at shortstop, and he can hit a lot better," said Mark Setian, 11, a fifth-grader from Hingham. "Nomar and Manny didn't do anything in the playoffs; they were different in the playoffs."

In Setian's view, Garciaparra is not quite the player he used to be. "I liked him, but I don't really like him now," he said. "He used to be a lot better."

Chaisson, of Walpole, agrees, and he has a theory. "Maybe it was his marriage," he said. "He got sidetracked. He was doing good all those other years, and then he started planning to get married. . . ."

Yet after seven mostly sterling years in a Red Sox uniform, Garciaparra still commands an allegiance among fans that, in the case of Anthony Campigotto,7, stretches all the way to Texas.

From his home in San Antonio, Anthony has been worriedly monitoring reports on ESPN about the possible departure of a player whom he saw play at Fenway Park during a visit to Boston last year and has idolized ever since. In Little League, he plays shortstop, and he tries to play like his idol. His mother is from Massachusetts, and he identifies Garciaparra with the Red Sox -- and he'd like it to stay that way.

"I liked Nomar before I even liked the Red Sox," he said. "If they trade Manny, I won't care. But if they trade Nomar, I will care. Nomar's my favorite player. I will be upset."

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

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