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ON BASEBALL

Shortstop hasn't forgotten, forgiven

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All is definitely not forgiven.

If anything, the anger, hurt, and resentment Nomar Garciaparra has been harboring since he learned the Red Sox were trying to replace him with Alex Rodriguez is more transparent than ever, and he's not about to let Sox management forget that it played a dangerous game with A-Rod, and lost.

Previously, the Sox had couched any discussion of Garciaparra's future in Boston in terms of their uncertainty over whether the shortstop really wanted to stay. Eight months away from free agency, that's no longer the case.

By romancing A-Rod at Garciaparra's expense, the Sox have allowed Garciaparra to frame this discussion in terms of how much they want to keep him, and what reason he has to believe them even if they do. Not after listening to them for months say how their top priority was to re-sign him, then turning on the TV to find out that it was Rodriguez they really wanted.

Never mind that the Sox felt they had no choice but to explore the A-Rod avenue because they had serious doubts about their ability to keep Garciaparra in a Sox uniform -- at least, for the price they were willing to pay. This is now about their franchise player, who expended maximum effort on the field and was a model citizen off it, believing that he was blindsided, then tossed overboard.

"Can you believe after these three months I'm still here in Fort Myers?" Garciaparra said yesterday, addressing the media from the same picnic table occupied only a few minutes earlier by Pedro Martinez, another Sox superstar with an uncertain future.

"Am I still mad? Mad, all that stuff, I don't know if I'm all those things. I was definitely hurt by a lot of it."

Garciaparra would not discuss the status of his current negotiations with the club, other than to say there have been some and they will continue. His agent, Arn Tellem, is due in camp sometime in the next week or so.

Unlike Martinez last season, Garciaparra wasn't drawing any lines in the sand, setting a deadline by the end of spring training for a new deal.

"I'm not going to be saying stuff like that," he said. "Right now, I'm just focused on baseball. As far as deadlines, I'm not really worried about that. I signed a contract for the Red Sox a long time ago to play here. Now that I'm at the end of that contract, I'm going to fulfill that contract. That's what I'm about. I've done that from Day 1, and I'm still doing that."

Nor was Garciaparra admitting to having gained any advantage from A-Rod winding up in Yankee pinstripes alongside Derek Jeter.

"Does it enhance my position and everything?" he said. "It wasn't about enhancing my position. I was never about that. I'm not about enhancing my position. I've done everything I can."

But clearly, from where Garciaparra was sitting, the Sox fell far short of what they could have done to keep him in their uniform.

Not true, he said, that he rejected the club's offer of a four-year extension at $15 million a year last spring. He made a counter-offer, he said (Sox sources said it was for four years at $17 million a pop), and assumed that talks would continue in good faith.

"I made a counter-offer and said there definitely was some flexibility in there, and didn't hear from them then," he said. "Apparently they weren't flexible at all."

Still, the sides agreed to resume talks after the season. But, according to Garciaparra, only when Tellem called GM Theo Epstein to see whether there was any truth to the A-Rod rumors, early in December, while Garciaparra was on his honeymoon with Mia Hamm, did he receive a new offer from the Sox, one considerably lower ($12 million a year for four years) than the previous one.

"Was I stunned? Of course," Garciaparra said.

It was at that point that Tellem, in an interview with the Globe, lashed out at the Sox, calling them "disingenuous." A distraught Garciaparra called WEEI from Hawaii, and Sox owner John W. Henry fired back at Tellem, the details of the previously private negotiations spilling into the media.

"When I heard about it, I was thinking, well, the priorities are obviously not for me," he said. "They're obviously for someone else. That was pretty evident throughout this whole winter."

Garciaparra said that in his mind, he was gone. The deal was done. He wasn't ruling out the possibility that he could still be traded this summer, though that would appear almost inconceivable at this point.

"Is all of this fixable? From my standpoint, right now all of this stuff is in the past," Garciaparra said, despite the obvious freshness of the wounds. "I came in, I came in shape, I came in ready like I always do.

"We have a phenomenal team. I'm excited about our team. I was excited about it last year. That's really my focus. It's been like that from Day 1 and continues that way."

The Sox didn't sign Garciaparra last spring. They tried to trade him over the winter. They dramatically lowered their offer to him, further raising questions about the sincerity of their efforts to keep him. Doesn't that plant the thought in Garciaparra's head that, in all likelihood, this will be his last season with the Sox?

That's not how he looks at it, he said. He insists he's not discounting the possibility of staying.

"Not at all," he said. "I've always said my hope was to play here in Boston and that hasn't changed. Right now, I'm excited my Sox are still red."

But so is the back of his neck. And that isn't going to change, any time soon.

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