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A Legend Lives On

There’s a place where major league players go when their careers go downhill.  It’s called the Independent League.  Home to Rich “El Guapo” Garces and some other fine characters.I was lucky enough to see the Coco Crisp vs. James Shields brawl live earlier this month.

Needless to say, the excitement level of the game dropped a tad after the big ruckus.  But just as I was settling in to stare mindlessly at the bouncing beachballs of the bleachers, a comment from a young fellow in the row behind me sparked my interest.

“Dude – do you remember El Guapo?  That guy was the man!”

I turned around and agreed with him.  Indeed, Rich Garces – or as he was known to most people, El Guapo – was the man.  But to most people’s surprise, including the lad I met at Fenway Park that night, chubby Garces is still an active baseball player.

After a solid run as the Red Sox setup man in the late `90s, his major league career fizzled out in 2002.  But a fat man with a semi-strong arm is never out of work for long.  Okay, that’s a lie.  Even so – Garces would get another shot.

But who would have guessed that the Venezuelan relief pitcher would make his great comeback in . . . Nashua, New Hampshire?  I know – not quite where you pictured him.  But hey – it’s pretty cool that NH (or the Shire as cool people like me call it) has a minor league baseball team – right?

Well, not quite.  We do have a minor league team (Toronto’s Double A squad) – but they play in Manchester.  And they’re called the Fisher Cats.  And they used to be called the Primaries.  Yeah, it’s a little messed up.

Garces, on the other hand, is playing in something called the Independent League (i.e. a bunch of washed-up old guys and a bunch of washed-up high school prospects).  El Guapo signed a contract with the Nashua Pride last year and helped them become the champions of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball.  I like to think of it as the XFL of baseball.

In all honesty, the Nashua Pride is a joke.  It’s exactly what you picture when you imagine a lame minor league organization full of ridiculous mascots (Monkey Boy was a personal favorite of my father), tons of gimmicks (they gave away dustpans on opening night), and on-field contests (I don’t even know where to start).  The people at my office even hate them (and we’re the only newspaper that covers them – in fact, we actually bet on how low the attendance will be each night).

Even after the Pride won the championship last year, the team on the absolute verge of extinction.  I assume a typo or something saved them.

But still, $5 tickets to the Pride look awfully good when you are browsing Stubhub for Red Sox tickets.  And plus, Nashua usually fields a team with at least a couple of interesting characters.  My fondest memories of the Pride came a couple years back when Dante Bichette decided to make a tour of duty around the Independent League.  Rickey Henderson did a similar thing recently, and now the roster includes El Guapo, Bobby Abreu’s brother, and a guy named Sandy Almonte – who I assume is just Danny Almonte undercover.

They still list Rich Garces at 250 pounds, and it’s just as ludicrous as it was back in his Boston days.  The big guy actually just joined the team the other day, because visa issues kept him in Venezuela for a while.

So thankfully – the Pride is ready to defend its title, El Guapo is back, and as a result – business is booming for the restaurants in Nashua.

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