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Varitek knows his position with Sox next year

After circling the rink in Fenway, Jason Varitek is circled by the media. After circling the rink in Fenway, Jason Varitek is circled by the media. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 19, 2009

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Jason Varitek barely ventured out onto the sheet of ice, after having been helped onto the surface by Ray Bourque. He mostly stood still, talking to Bourque near the side of the rink as photographers raced to get pictures of the pair. Not long after that, word came that the ice had to be cleared. Varitek, seemingly gratefully, walked off.

But a skater sidled up to Varitek, and suggested that the pair could still circle the rink.

“Only if you go with me,’’ Varitek said to Bobby Orr.

With the environment looking just a wee bit different than it does on a normal day at work for the Red Sox catcher, the two took their time skating around the rink, which has been installed on the Fenway Park infield for the upcoming Winter Classic.

It had been quite a while for Varitek, who looked a bit shaky on skates borrowed from a member of the media. But Varitek added that, growing up in Michigan until the age of 7, “probably the first thing I learned to do was skate.’’

That is one thing that won’t be requested of Varitek in his return, his 14th season in a Red Sox uniform. But Varitek will return to Fenway in a very different role.

He might still be the captain, but he won’t be the starter. Manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have been clear that Varitek will be backing up Victor Martinez at catcher in 2010.

And although it is unclear how often Varitek will play, it is certain that it won’t be every day unless something goes wrong.

“Just seeing it in a different role and seeing how my body adapts to maybe the less pounding, the less physical grind, that might be a good time for me to transition,’’ said Varitek, who will turn 38 on April 11. “I’m preparing as I always do, to be able to handle as much as I can. So I’ll prepare for a full-time role even though it’s dictated in another way. That way if something happens, I’m ready to go.

“I don’t think I’ll change my pride in my work. I don’t think that’s going to change, just maybe the playing time is going to change. We have a pretty dynamic lineup [with] a lot of moving parts. Don’t know exactly how that’s all going to play out. Know that going into it that Vic’s going to play the majority of the time. For me, I kind of got in that role last year, so I had two months to kind of get used to it.’’

Varitek renewed his commitment to work with Martinez, as he did at the end of last season. In that, and in other ways, Varitek said he would be able to maintain his leadership role. He said he still needs to be just as prepared as any other season, just as ready to prove himself to a team that he’s been with since the 1997 trade that brought him to Boston from Seattle.

“I’m preparing to come out here and get in spring training, to make sure that I win myself a job and to make sure that I’m able to help this team win games,’’ Varitek said. “When I’m done and sitting on the couch and doing that full time, then I can probably reflect [on his career] more. But I’m happy. I’m happy and always feel fortunate that I’ve been able to be here and have a career, period.’’

Asked if he was truly getting ready as if he needs to win a job, Varitek said, “I don’t think a decal makes a difference, an extra letter on a uniform. But, yeah, prepare myself that I’m going to go out there and be ready this spring and work my way into trying to play at a high level.’’

Varitek acknowledged he went through some injuries that had, until this week, gone unreported. He confirmed he had suffered a bulging disk and a broken big toe, though he refused to make those into excuses, and said he didn’t know when the disk started to become an issue.

“I still don’t believe that is why I struggled more in the second half,’’ he said.

He did say, however, that due to less wear and tear on his body, he felt better sooner after the season ended.

But beyond 2010, there are no answers for Varitek. His contract only extends that far. Perhaps retirement might come after that.

“I don’t really know,’’ he said. “As far as when retirement is, I’m not really thinking about that. I’m thinking about preparing and physically getting ready and mentally getting ready for a season, healing up, getting healthy and getting strong and getting ready for the next one.

“You ask the first half of last season, it’s like I’ve got a long time left. Some things didn’t go so well after. I have to gauge and adjust to a different role and see what I can do before I can really make that decision. My body’s healthy and I’m able to compete at a level where I think that I can contribute. I don’t know how long I’ll play for.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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