FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jason Varitek had his emotions in check until he looked up and saw so many of his teammates lined up behind the chairs where his parents sat.
There were Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, two of the four pitchers he guided to no-hitters. Tim Wakefield, his teammate for 15 years who had announced his own retirement only two weeks prior, was there. So was Josh Beckett, the stubborn Texan who insisted Varitek had to catch him.
A dozen or so others stood among them, all paying tribute.
That’s when the wave hit and for the first time that any of them could remember, their captain, the toughest ballplayer they knew, started to cry.
“Guys, you have no idea what this means,” Varitek said before he paused and wiped his cheeks.
Varitek spoke from a podium just in front of the plate at JetBlue Park, a new facility he will never play at. His wife, Catherine, and his three daughters, Alexandra, Kendall and Caroline, sat a few feet away.
“He’s been so emotional all week,” Catherine Varitek said. “It’s a tough thing for him. The guys mean so much to him.”
Said Beckett: “It’s hard to watch a grown man cry. I just can’t say enough about the guy and what he meant to all of us.”
The Red Sox offered Varitek only a minor-league contract and could not guarantee him a spot on the team. He had offers from other teams but could not bring himself to change uniforms. That led to Varitek putting on a gray suit and standing in front of a plate he wished he were squatting behind.
“He was very steadfast about having a legacy. It was really, really important, knowing him,” said Varitek’s long-time agent, Scott Boras. “When you lead a pitching staff and you set a tone for an organization, he just really identified with this team.
“It was more than a uniform or a job or a place. For him, it was part of the fabric.”
Joe Varitek, who raised Jason and three other sons, said it was a proud moment for their family. He and his wife, Donna, watched their son speak with a small box of tissues at the ready.
“If you lead by example, which is what he does, it’s always a good feeling to see other people see and reflect on that,” he said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s something you cherish for a lifetime.”
Owner John Henry said seeing Wakefield and Varitek retire felt like the end of an era for the Red Sox.
“It says more about them, the class acts they are, than it does about anything else,” he said. “These are two extraordinary players who gave everything. When you have two players of their stature who have been such a part of this organization for so long, it’s a new chapter when they leave.”