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

Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect
February 28, 2012, 12:40 pm
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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.