Life, Love and Travel Tips from Athletes Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra
“Good hair.” That was what initially attracted Mia Hamm to her husband Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra responds with a laugh, “It was her great looks and hair that got me.”
It’s hard to square this level of levity and transparency from a couple that embodies the tenacious ambition and competitive drive that took them to the top of their respective sports. They each spent more than a decade electrifying millions of fans around the world, and in many ways, they still do.
Hamm, 43, played for the U.S. women’s national soccer team in four World Cups and three Olympic Games, winning the World Cup three times and the gold medal at the Olympics twice, first at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and then again at the Athens Games in 2004.
Garciaparra’s Major League career started during the 1996 season with the Boston Red Sox. The next year he was voted the American League’s Rookie of the Year and anchored the infield for the Sox until 2004, picking up the American League batting title in 1999 and 2000. He wrapped up his career in 2006 after stints with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics.
Today Hamm is still one of the most recognizable faces in women’s sports and maintains her connection to soccer through her groundbreaking seat on the board of the men’s A.S. Roma club in Italy and with Team First, the girl’s soccer camps she runs with her former teammates Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch. Garciaparra, 41, has parlayed his love of baseball into a successful television career as a baseball analyst and host with ESPN and now for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ local broadcasts. Both are putting their money and experience behind a new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles that’s scheduled to start play in 2017.
Despite their separate drives to succeed, get Hamm and Garciaparra together and they quickly reveal that what makes them tick is their commitment to each other and their children, 8-year- old twin daughters and a 3-year-old son. “Our biggest smiles come from our kids’ smiles,” says Garciaparra, who adds that his favorite part of the day is walking his daughters to school.
How did two driven people like you fall in love and create such a strong marriage?
Hamm: Beyond his great hair? I fell for his values. He’s an extremely family-oriented person. His family has rooted and grounded him, though I had to learn that family to him extends to close friends as well as blood relatives. It’s a big group of people.
Garciaparra: It was easy with her, you know? I could be myself. From the first moment I met her I realized that I didn’t need to impress her. She is so easy to be around. Our relationship grew from a friendship and that made it easy to ask her to marry me. I also knew I wanted a family and that was at the top of her list as well.
Most marriages seem to involve sacrifices by one spouse, but not yours. How do you make this dynamic work?
Hamm: We’re lucky. His family lives nearby (Garciaparra grew up in the Los Angeles area) and my brother lives out here. There’s always someone from the family around to help, but we try really hard not to lean on them. Yes, we both travel a lot, but we want to make sure at least one of us is with the kids. So we sit down and map out our schedules months in advance. Fortunately, Nomar’s schedule is easier to work around as the season begins in April and ends by October and when he’s home, he’s usually working afternoons and nights. With me, I’ll sometimes get a speaking opportunity with three weeks’ notice and have to decide whether it’s worth it. Between my camps and role with A.S. Roma, I travel plenty already, and even though we get invited to fun events or places all the time, we say no a lot more than we say yes. If the Dodgers are at home, Nomar works out of the TV studio, which is 10 minutes away. Some nights, he’ll do the pre-game show in the afternoon, come home for dinner and put the kids to bed before heading back to the studio to do the post-game show.
Garciaparra: I keep one eye on the TV and the game the whole time I’m home. So far the kids don’t mind. We’ll see how long that lasts. When I’m on the road with the team, I pack a bunch of their books and then I’ll read bedtime stories to them in bed with FaceTime. We do a lot of FaceTime in our family.
As world-class athletes, how do you approach sports with your kids? Do you feel any pressure to push them toward soccer or softball or baseball?
Hamm: The only thing we want them to do is be active for the health and wellness aspect that sports provides. How they do that is up to them. Right now our daughters are into whatever they’re playing because their friends are doing it. If they find out a friend is signed up for soccer or softball or something, they want to do it. That makes it easy. All we ask is that if they do join a team they complete the season, show their coach and teammates respect, and try their best. Sports were a passion for Nomar and me. We know what that passion looks and feels like and if we see it in our children, great. If not, we’re sure they’ll find something else that they’re passionate about. We have one daughter who’s very artistic, and I worry about how I’m going to help her nurture that. Art isn’t in my background.
Garciaparra: I love that our kids play everything right now. Whatever season they’re in is their favorite. Last fall it was soccer. Now it’s softball. It’s perfect. The kids are at that age where they should be trying new things all the time. The one thing I won’t do is ask them to play with me. Whether it’s catch with a softball or kicking a soccer ball around, I wait for them to ask me. I want them to want to do it, not feel like they have to play sports with daddy because he asked. But man, when they do, we have the greatest time.
From all those years on the road with your teams, do you have any tips that translate to family travel?
Hamm: Our daughters are old enough to be in charge of their own carry-ons so we have one rule, “You pack it. You carry it.” I tell them they might want to leave the 64-pack of crayons at home and take the 8-pack instead.
Garciaparra: Or keep their pet rocks and four favorite stuffed animals at home. Each of us has a travel backpack, and the girls each have a written list of what to pack in their backpacks for each trip. We give it to the girls and they follow it. It’s pretty basic stuff, like a change of clothes, books, iPad, the charger for the iPad— we’re at the point now where the girls just take care of it themselves. We’ve trained them well.
How has your approach to travel changed now that you’re a family?
Hamm: At first we thought a one-bedroom suite at a nice hotel was all we needed. Then we took one trip after we had our son and realized that there wasn’t enough room for us. OK, so now we need two rooms, but if the parents come along, that’s another room. After a couple of trips like that, it was getting up there in costs. That’s where Inspirato comes in. It gives us the flexibility to bring our family and friends along to share a house and have a stress-free vacation while keeping costs reasonable compared to a hotel.
Garciaparra: The biggest change for me is staying in a house and having a kitchen as opposed to always eating at the hotel restaurant. Before, everyone had to get dressed for breakfast and lunch and dinner. Eating in a restaurant with young kids is stressful, right? I was constantly telling them to be quiet and behave and worrying about whether there’s anything on the menu the kids will eat. I’m getting stressed out. The kids are getting stressed out. And we’re supposed to be on vacation! When we have a house to stay in, if we want to have break- fast in our pajamas at 11 in the morning, we can. Everyone gets to eat what they want, and we can be as funny or loud as we want to be. Well, maybe not too loud.
Hamm: Nomar and I travel for work more than we’d like, but we’ve traveled enough to know the value of checking out different places and experiences. We want to give our kids that exposure. But we also cherish the time we spend together. Even when we’re at home, we’re not always together. There’s always work, soccer practice and laundry or house projects to distract us. When we travel, there are no distractions, and we’ll happily spend an afternoon playing games at the kitchen table. We recently spent a weekend at Terranea, which is only 20 miles from our house. And even though it’s so close, it felt like a real vacation. It got us out of our routine and focused on each other. That’s what it’s all about, right?