BOSTON -- Nomar Garciaparra is still very much a Boston darling, still one of the most recognizable sports figures to come through this city and Fenway Park the last two decades.
Garciaparra drew some of the loudest cheers at the end of this Sox season when he came back as part of a celebration for the 2004 championship team and the All-Fenway Team. These days, he spends most of his time in Los Angeles, raising his three children and working as an ESPN analyst.
Garciaparra still makes it East on occasion, though, and some great food brought him back again last weekend.
Garciaparra came to the one year old Smith & Wollensky Atlantic Wharf location to dine with four folks from New Hampshire, contest winners in MLB.com's "Filet of Dream Sweep-Steaks." Dana Fritsch, the winning entrant, brought Lindsay Hilts, Laura McLaughlin and his father, Michael Fritsch.
Fans recognized Garciaparra on the street and inside the restaurant, a branch of one of the world's most famous steakhouses. But no one was more excited to see Garciaparra than Dana.
"Having dinner with Nomar Garciaparra was one of the most amazing things of my life," Dana said after the meal. "I couldn't imagine a more down to earth, amazing man [and] athlete."
Garciaparra has become something of an oenophile since retirement, so he's always game for a top-notch steak paired with fine wine. But in particular, he's always been a big Smith & Wollensky fan.
"When they actually presented it to me and asked me if I'd be interested in a dinner like this, I think they were all shocked," Garciaparra said. "Absolutely. I jumped all over 'em, like, 'Yeah, I'd love to, that would be great!' This is a restaurant brand I have been to in several of their cities. I always enjoyed it and had a good time and a great dinner every time I was there."
Garciaparra played with the Red Sox for most of nine seasons, the majority of his 14-year career. He finished as high as second in Most Valuable Player voting, in 1998, and he led the American League in batting average the next two years. His fame brought him a Sports Illustrated cover and an entire sketch on Saturday Night Live dedicated to him, and the love Boston fans have for him.
Conversation at the table touched on everything from former Sox manager Bobby Valentine to Garciaparra's signature, frenetic routine coming to the plate. Some of Smith & Wollenksy's top executives came out for the meal, which lasted hours and included shellfish starters and a tour of the kitchen.
Matt King, the corporate executive chef, dropped by the table. Kim Lapine, the restaurant's vice president of marketing, and Michael Feighery, its president, kicked off the dinner with a champagne toast.
"We're very happy for Dana, we're very happy with our partnership with Major League Baseball, and Nomar," Feighery said. "Nomar, celebrity as he is, is such a Smith & Wollensky customer. He really defines everything that we strive to do. You could meet someone like Nomar ... in our restaurants most nights of the week. It really embellishes what Smith & Wollensky is very famous for."
The Atlantic Wharf location is the newer of two Smith & Wollensky restaurants in Boston. It's been open just over a year now, and Feighery said things have gone as well as the organization could hope.
"Boston has really embraced us," Feighery said. "We've really achieved everything we wanted to do with our first year open. We're very proud of our dry-aged steaks, which [are produced from] our very unique and very distinctive process here at Smith & Wollensky. But most of all, our hospitality, our welcoming, our recognition. We pride ourselves on our guests' interaction. We are a local company, even though we are known nationally, internationally."