The pregame ceremony Saturday to honor recently retired captain Jason Varitek was emotional and even heartwarming. featured video clips, gifts, and sentiment from throughout Red Sox nation.
“It was surreal,” Varitek said. “For me to really absorb what just happened, I think I’m going to have to watch it. I spent a lot of my time out there trying to absorb, but I don’t think I fully can.
“My mind is, ‘You’re there, they’re doing this for you, and I in turn want to say thank you.’ And how do you say thank you for 15 years? How do you say thank you to a fan base that has been nothing but support and a fan base that I fit with with my style of play and what they demanded. To say thank you for that, it was bothering me for quite a while. I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of emotion going into today.”
After he made the rounds, stopping by the WEEI and NESN booths, Varitek spoke to reporters for 10 minutes, reflecting on his time with the Sox and perhaps offering a glimpse into his future in baseball. Though he said he “closed the door” on a potential comeback, coaching is not out of the realm of possibility.
“I watch,” Varitek said. “I don’t want to detach myself because I do believe I have some gifts to teach, to be a part of things in those regards. It’s still too early for me to make that decision, and what’s most important is getting my life, my family, and everything, and being involved with some of the things that I have missed.”
Varitek first really began to feel like a fan earlier this week when, watching with his three eldest daughters, all donning backward, inside-out Sox rally caps, Cody Ross hit a walk-off three-run homer against the White Sox. It was the first time he could do something like that with his family, though he has followed the team quite a bit this season.
Much of the questions surrounding Boston has been on the production — or lack thereof — of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. When asked about their performance this season, Varitek waxed a little introspective about the nature of criticism in baseball.
“We stay in a moment of negativity, so to speak, that we can all catch ourselves in that same turmoil instead of what’s wrong instead of what’s right,” Varitek said. “Through that, continue to focus themselves of what’s right, not what’s wrong, we’ll be just fine.”
Among the bunch of well-wishers who spoke fondly about Varitek before Saturday’s game, Jarrod Saltalamacchia spoke at length about how appreciative he was for Varitek’s mentoring during their time together at Fenway. Varitek returned the favor.
“Everybody started to appreciate what Salty’s doing more when he had 10, 12, 13 home runs,” Varitek said. “He was catching the ball and throwing the ball and doing the right things behind the plate well before that. The offense gave him recognition for something he was doing superbly behind the plate, but those aren’t statistics, those aren’t things that allow people to hold onto.
“To see those things are such a joy, just watching him catch at the beginning of the season, the way he’s catching the ball, the way he’s moving, the way he’s doing things, it’s nice. His work and everything he’s gone through the last year and a half being here, and everything before that, it looks great.”
As far as life away from the game?
“I have not a small family, so I’ve been busy that way, being a dad, being a husband, playing a little golf,” Varitek said. “It’s going relatively fast. Get home, have dinner, flip on the Red Sox.”
Other nuggets from Varitek:
On the knuckleball he threw to Tim Wakefield for the ceremonial first pitch Saturday: “I tried to. I should have gotten loose first. I used to mess around and throw it on the days Wake would pitch, Salty and I would finish with like 10, 15 knuckleballs. I had the worst knuckleball in baseball. Once in a blue moon I’d throw a good one, but it would be about 1 out of every 100. I saw the movie ‘Knuckleball’ and it didn’t help me. J.D. Drew had a good one. Wake’s got a pretty good one.”
On what he doesn’t miss from the game: “My body feels a little better. My feet tend to give me the worst issues of anything, but my knees feel awfully good.”
On dealing with not studying opposing pitchers any more: “I’ve got to do freakin’ work with my kids from their school work that freakin’ I couldn’t do when I was in school! How do we do this probability? Oh, I got to read.”
On what he will enjoy from the highlight montage: “I think I’m going to enjoy the truck the most. You’ve got to remember, I’ve got four girls, a wife, two female dogs, I’ve got my first man car. The only thing that keeps going through my mind is jumping into Pap’s arms or jumping into Foulke’s arms, because that’s the only thing I can remember right now. I’m telling you, I was a little distracted with what was on my mind and on my heart of what I was going to say. It didn’t matter what I wrote down and thought through. I may have to watch it.”
On the significance of his fight with A-Rod, which made the montage: “It was an important for the organization and the team in a time period … it signified a turnaround point which was by a game, but that team turned around a good two and a half, three weeks before that. We played great baseball, we just happened to lose 2-1, 3-2, win one, lose one 2-1, have some great extra-inning games. We were playing really good baseball. All that started to come into play, and after that it just catapulted. I don’t think if what was going on before that had happened, it never would have been a turning point.”