Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect


Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect

There's a time and a place for everything. And Jason Varitek has decided the time and place for his retirement will be Thursday in Fort Myers.

Every Red Sox fan knows the captain's story.

I just thought I'd share one more.

It was a Tuesday night at Fenway Park in April 2010, one of the first Red Sox games I ever covered. It was the night Darnell McDonald -- on the same day he was called up from the minors -- won it with a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth, after he'd hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer that tied the score in the bottom of the eighth. It was also the night the Red Sox battery of Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez allowed nine stolen bases in five innings, extending the team's streak of consecutive steals allowed to 29.

McDonald was the story of the night, obviously. But my assignment was the stolen bases.

Varitek -- who replaced Martinez in the top of the eighth, after Martinez was pinch-run for in the bottom of the seventh -- sat in his chair, facing his locker, following the game. The postgame scrum was elsewhere, and he was alone.

The way I looked at it, he was the captain. If there was something going so badly wrong with an aspect of the team's performance that his position was involved in, he would have the answer.

So I looked at my colleague, Sean McAdam, and asked him if it was cool to approach Varitek.

I was new to the Red Sox clubhouse. But I'd been there often enough to know that it certainly wasn't the Bruins dressing room. Anyone and everyone in a hockey dressing room is approachable.

Sean looked at Varitek, looked back at me, and gave the okay.

I was only 10 feet away. But the walk felt like an entire lap around Castle Island.

By the time I got there, I was already regretting the decision. But there was no retreating at that point.

There was so much I could have done. I could have introduced myself. I could have told him I was a lifelong standing-room, season-ticket holder at Fenway Park. I could have told him I'll always remember exactly where I was when he stiff-armed Alex Rodriguez in 2004. All to start the conversation on a more pleasant note.

Instead, I hit the record button on my tape recorder and asked him about the nine stolen bases.

To be honest, I don't remember exactly what he responded with. I just know it wasn't good enough to fill my only story of the night.

So I asked him again, wording the question differently.

He turned left and slightly upward, making eye contact with me for the first time. He gave the same type of generic response. Only this time, his tone was far more aggressive, and the look on his face was far less pleasant. He punctuated his response with "Period. End of question." I thanked him for his time and retreated.

Just several days earlier, Terry Francona had laughed in my face and called me out for the way I'd asked what, otherwise, would have been a fair question, completely and unnecessarily embarrassing me. With Francona, I swallowed my pride, plopped myself in the front row the very next night, and asked him second question of the press conference. I got right back on the horse.

But now it had happened again. It bothered me.

Maybe Varitek saw it in my face. Or maybe he simply felt bad about the way he responded. In any case, 20 minutes later -- as I stood on the other side of the Red Sox clubhouse -- I felt a hand come down on my shoulder.

There was Varitek -- arm wrapped heavily with ice -- apologizing for the way he reacted to my questions.

Like his answer to those questions, I don't remember today exactly what he said. I just know he went out of his way to walk over to the other side of the clubhouse and offered a sincere apology.

There was no camera on him. There were no lights or microphones in his face. Nobody was going to put this in their postgame notebook.

Despite his frustration with my negative questions, Varitek knew I was just doing my job. And whether he agreed with the line of questioning or not, he probably could tell by the look on my face that he'd left me somewhat rattled.

It was the first and only time a professional athlete has gone out of his way to offer an apology for something that -- let's face it -- he never really had to apologize for.

I would have got over it. And so would he.

But Varitek was captain of the Red Sox for a reason. On that April night in 2010, I got a glimpse of that reason.

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

There’s no such thing as a good time to have an injury. 

But in terms of Isaiah Thomas being sidelined with a right groin injury and the schedule awaiting the Boston Celtics … this is about as bad a time as you can imagine to be without their scoring leader.

Thomas returned to Boston ahead of tonight’s game at Orlando, marking his first game missed since the 2014-2015 season. 

He suffered a right groin injury in the second quarter of Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday. 

At the time, Thomas was optimistic that he would be able to play tonight. But with a day off from practice, the soreness proved to be too much for Thomas to suit up and play tonight. 

While it’s unclear just how severe his groin injury is, the Celtics are likely to be overly cautious (like they are with most injuries) about his return which may result in him missing more games than Wednesday night’s matchup against Orlando. 

“Those things (groin injuries) are a little unpredictable,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters earlier today. “Especially in this sport, you have to be able to stop and change direction on a dime, especially him. It’s important that he’s 100 percent.”

Stevens is spot-on when he talks about how uncertain a return for Thomas is currently. 

New York’s Kristaps Porzingis suffered a groin injury against the Celtics in a preseason game back in October that didn’t result in anything more than him missing a day of practice. 

It was a different story when Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic suffered a right groin injury last spring (March 7-29) that sidelined him for 13 games. 

The timetable for Thomas’ return to the floor is likely to fall somewhere within those two timetables which would make an already daunting stretch of games even more difficult. 

Following tonight’s game, Boston has 12 games remaining in the month of December with nine being against teams with a winning record. And of the three games against teams below-.500 (Miami twice, Indiana), two of them are on the road. 

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”