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ON BASEBALL

Garciaparra: Short stop, with no anger

At baseball clinic, Sox star says all is right with his world

EASTON -- He's taking the high road. Really, did you expect anything different from Nomar Garciaparra, who showed the world a smile when a snarl might have been understandable after an offseason in which Red Sox ownership sent its franchise player a clear message that it was fully prepared to proceed without him.

But Garciaparra, in his first public appearance since the Sox failed to consummate their bid to replace him with a younger and (many would argue) more talented franchise player, Alex Rodriguez, sat in front of a small table yesterday in an improvised news conference in a vacant racquetball court at Stonehill College, where he was conducting his annual baseball clinic for kids, and pronounced all was right in his world.

Though, it should be noted, he did mention that the Sox have yet to resume negotiations on a contract extension, talks that blew up last month when the club came back with an offer markedly lower than the one rejected by Garciaparra last spring.

"My offseason has been great," Garciaparra said, smiling broadly. "How could it not be? I got married. It's been wonderful, to be honest with you."

It didn't sound quite so wonderful last month, when a miffed Garciaparra interrupted his Hawaii honeymoon to call radio station WEEI to express his shock to hear that the Sox were attempting to land Rodriguez, though the A-Rod campaign was hardly a secret at that point, the story having broken during the general managers' meetings in Arizona in November.

Garciaparra said the hurt he showed in that phone call was over the backhanded way he'd found out. Yesterday he waved off the notion that any of that hurt lingers, again citing his marriage last November to soccer star Mia Hamm.

"I'm married, I have a great life, there are 500 kids here to learn about playing baseball, I'm playing the sport I love -- what hurt?" he said.

Beyond saying that talks have not resumed -- "The ball's in their court, when they want to pick this up" -- Garciaparra said he will have nothing to say regarding negotiations. He's honoring an agreement, he said, he made even before talks turned serious last spring, to keep contract talk under the radar, although that blew up last month in a nasty public exchange between Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, and Sox principal owner John W. Henry, who refused to let Tellem get away with calling the Sox "disingenuous" in their dealings with Garciaparra.

Suddenly, it was a matter of public record that Garciaparra had turned down a four-year, $15 million-a-year offer last March, that Tellem had proposed a four-year deal at $17 million per annum, and that by December, the Sox' offer had shrunk to four years and $48 million. A market correction, the team pronounced, at which time Tellem, according to a Sox executive, sent some words in the direction of Sox GM Theo Epstein that cannot be repeated here, but essentially told Epstein what he could do with his market correction. It was at that point, Sox officials say, that the A-Rod pursuit turned serious.

But Garciaparra wouldn't be drawn into a rehash yesterday.

"A lot of that stuff was unfortunate," he said. "Sometimes that happens. That's stuff I have no control over."

He insists that even as he enters what could be his last season with the Sox because of his impending free agency, his focus is no different than what it has always been, preparing for the season in the only way he knows how, which means a continuation of the hellish six-hour-a-day workouts in Arizona with longtime trainer Mark Verstegen. New Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is a recent Verstegen convert, and is working out with Garciaparra.

"I focus on the things I can control," he said, "and the things I can control are focusing on getting ready for the season. I'm not going to feel unsettled. I'm under contract with the Boston Red Sox. I know that. My focus is on getting ready. I look forward to this year."

Garciaparra said he feels strong and deflected a question about whether he had worn down by the end of last season, when he hit just .170 in September, saying that the grind was no different from previous seasons. He had kind words to say about deposed manager Grady Little ("I'll definitely miss him"), but was enthused about incoming manager Terry Francona, for whom he played in the Arizona Fall League. He likened Francona to Little, and praised him for his honest, up-front approach with his players.

"The team looks great on paper," Garciaparra said. "That's all we've got right now. We'll see how it progresses. I don't think we'll have any problem getting the chemistry back."

And yes, he insisted, he's square with Kevin Millar, who has been backtracking ever since he came out in favor of trades that would have brought Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez to Boston, at the expense of Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez.

"Kevin and I are friends," he said. "We're friends. We've always been friends. Always. There are two sides to every story."

The story yesterday was this: Whatever bitterness Garciaparra may harbor toward the Sox is tucked away, far from prying eyes. He insists it doesn't exist. There were no Pedro-like demands that if an extension isn't agreed upon by the start of the season, he is definitely walking come October.

There was nothing but a smile, and a vow to play this season the way he has every other. Which for most Sox fans, at least in the short term, should be enough.

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