FORT MYERS, Fla. — No matter what kind of numbers shortstop Nick Punto puts up for the Boston Red Sox this season, none will be bigger than the one on his back.
Punto is wearing No. 5 this season, which carries a lot of weight in Red Sox lore. It’s the number that fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra wore at shortstop for the Red Sox for nine years. Garciaparra was a five-time All-Star and the AL Rookie of the Year in 1997.
Punto, who signed a two-year, $3 million deal with Boston in the winter after winning the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals last season, is a student of the game, so the significance was not lost on him.
That’s why he reached out to Garciaparra last week.
“I’m honored to be wearing Nomar’s number,” Punto said. “I talked to him a while the other day just to tell him how honored I am to wear his number. He appreciated the call.”
Outfielder Rocco Baldelli wore No. 5 for Boston in 2009, making him and Punto the only two players to wear it since Garciaparra was traded during the 2004 season.
Punto got to know Garciaparra when the two worked out at the same training facility in the winter years ago and the two hit it off despite being completely different infielders.
Garciaparra won two AL batting titles in 1999 and 2000 and topped 20 homers and 90 RBIs seven times for the Red Sox.
Punto is a defensive scrapper who can play all over the diamond. But with so many other big boppers in their lineup now, the need for offensive production at shortstop wasn’t as big of a priority. So the Red Sox signed Punto to compete with Mike Aviles and prospect Jose Iglesias after they traded starter Marco Scutaro to Colorado.
If Punto wins the job, he’ll be occupying the same patch of dirt and wearing the same number that the beloved “No-mah” did at Fenway Park. After getting jeered there by Red Sox fans for so many years, Punto is looking forward to some better treatment this season.
“I’ve always loved Fenway,” Punto said. “Great atmosphere, the 10th man with the fans. It’s pretty intimidating and now it’s going to be nice for them to be on my side.”