FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year deal, the happiest person in the organization wasn't John Henry, Theo Epstein, Terry Francona or even Wally The Green Monster.
Catcher Jason Varitek goes to the head of the line. Not only has Crawford stolen 62 bases against the Sox over the years, he has personally battered and bruised Varitek.
Crawford bowled over Varitek at the plate in Game 3 of the 2008 ALCS, wrenching the captain's neck. Then last June 30, he fouled off a ball that broke Varitek's right foot and sent him to the disabled list for just over two months.
"You run me over at the plate. You jacked up my neck. You're the one that caused all my neck problems and last year you fouled a ball off my foot, You're single-handedly trying to ruin my career," Varitek said he told Crawford. "Thank God you're here. You just extended my career four years."
Asked to describe what Crawford brings to the game, Varitek needed one word: Athleticism.
"He's developed as a player, especially as a hitter and as a base-runner. Just athleticism. He can make athletic adjustments at the plate and find a way to get the barrel the ball. ... You seem some balls hit to the outfield that he gets to. You're like, 'Hit? Nope, not a hit.' ''
Varitek said Crawford now sees more pitches than he used to, a trait that comes with experience.
"He started making adjustments, having a better plan," Varitek said. "Those type things. Then he can just get into an at-bat and be an athlete. The best example of that is Johnny Damon.
"Johnny Damon was very much that way. One-armed bandit, fouling balls off and making things frustrating for a pitcher. Then all of a sudden he hits a 50-hopper and he's safe at first. Pitcher did what they had to do, but his speed and athleticism found a way to get it done."
Varitek said the Sox sometimes gave up second base to Crawford rather than risk the pitcher get distracted and leave a pitch over the plate. That's how fast he is. Now Varitek is looking forward to talking to Crawford to get some tips about nabbing runners.
Meanwhile, when asked about that play at the plate in 2008, Varitek said it was clean. Crawford crashed into him, knocking back his head.
Then Varitek looked up and smiled.
"He was out," he said.