Jason Varitek was barely on the ice for a few minutes, having been helped onto the surface by Ray Bourque. It was time for the ice to be cleared, the surface to be worked on, and Varitek (seemingly gratefully) made his way off of the ice.
But a skater sidled up to Varitek, and suggested that the pair could do a circle around the ice, even as everyone else was being removed.
“Only if you go with me,” Varitek said to Bobby Orr.
With a hockey rink installed in the middle of Fenway Park, it made for a slightly bizarre scene. But there were Varitek and Orr, two athletes who have meant quite a bit to the city of Boston, skating together on a frigid day.
Varitek learned to skate when he was about three years old, growing up in Michigan. His family lived there until he was about seven, then moved to Florida. But the Sox catcher said skating was one of the first things he learned to do, though he hasn’t exactly spent much time on skates lately.
Once he was off the ice, Varitek sat down with members of the Boston media for the first time since he exercised his $3 million player option to return to the Red Sox in 2010.
“I don’t think it was much of a decision for me because it was part of what I set out to do,” Varitek said. “It was so important to me a year ago, this time last year, to make sure that I [had] and opportunity to have a second year [on my contract].”
It was clear from his comments that Varitek understands his role in Boston, that he will be the backup catcher with Victor Martinez as the every day option. He went through the transition the second half of last season, and though he hasn’t spoken much about it to manager Terry Francona, there is no confusion about what he’ll do come next season.
“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,” Varitek said. “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. It’s also some dynamics of flexibility. 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 majoirty 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, easing that transition. In that, and in other ways, Varitek said that he would be able to maintain his leadership role, maintain his place as Captain of the Sox.
And, given that C and given his history with the Sox, Varitek could easily be taking his spot as backup for granted. But, he said, he still needs to get to spring training 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.
“You can reflect back when you’re done,” Varitek said, when asked to look back on his career. “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. When I’m done and sitting on the couch and doing that full time, then I can probably reflect 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 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.”
As usual, Varitek did not want to get into the injuries t
hat clearly impacted his season, including a broken big toe, which he acknowledged this morning, and the bulging disk in his neck that was first reported by Tony Massarotti, in addition to shoulder problems.
He said that he’s healthy now, and expects to be fine by spring training. He said a good portion of this offseason will be dedicated to getting him physically ready. He’ll starting swinging a bat at the beginning of next month in preparation for the season.
One thing that Varitek doesn’t have answers about is the end of his career. His contract only extends as far as the 2010 season. Perhaps retirement might be in the cards after that. Varitek will be turning 38 a week into the coming season, with a slowing bat and a reduced role.
“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.”