Red Sox taken aback by Varitek retirement

Red Sox taken aback by Varitek retirement
February 28, 2012, 3:26 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- News that former teammate Jason Varitek has decided to officially retire Thursday couldn't have come as a great shock to Red Sox players.

Nevertheless, as players dressed Tuesday morning, some couldn't quite get over the fact that, for the first time since 1998, Varitek wouldn't be part of Red Sox.

"I was expecting Tek to play until he was 60,'' said Clay Buchholz only half-jokingly. "He awesome behind there and I still think he could be awesome behind the plate and have a job in baseball. But this is his decision.''

"Definitely,'' agreed David Ortiz. "We're used to seeing Tek walking around and doing his thing. Walking in this year and not seeing him was something unexpected. Man, we're going to miss him.''

Varitek affected different teammates in different ways. With pitchers, he preached preparation and took a firm hand with them on the mound. For fellow catchers, he unselfishly helped others, even if it meant he was helping to groom someone who would one day take his position.

"He meant a lot, obviously,'' said Jarrod Saltamaacchia, who supplanted Varitek as the No. 1 Red Sox catcher in 2011. "Last year, (he) was a huge, huge help in getting my career back on track.''

"He was a great teammate,'' said David Ortiz, who, with the retirement of Varitek and Tim Wakefield in recent weeks, is now the longest tenured Red Sox player. "It certainly was a good ride, being Tek's teammate. There's a lot of memories involved in that.''

Saltalamacchia could tell that there was something special about Varitek even before they were teammates.

Recalling his time in Texas, Saltalamacchia said: "The way he went about his business. I wasn't even in the clubhouse, but I could just see from across the field how people looked at him, how people respected him.''

"(He taught me) how to pitch,'' recalled Clay Buchholz, who joked that it took almost two seasons for him to not feel intimidated by Varitek's steely demeanor. "He helped slow the game down, how to pitch to certain guys, how to get out of certain situations. He was a (instrumental) part of my learning experience in baseball."

Saltalamacchia, who came to the Red Sox in August of 2010 when Varitek was recovering from a broken foot, remembers feeling unsure of himself in 2011 when he took over the top catcher's role.

"I was definitely a little hesitant,'' he said. "I didn't know how to act toward the pitchers. I always looked to him to get a meeting started, but he did an unbelievable job of letting those guys know where I stood and where he stood.

"I didn't expect him to be so helpful. It was like, 'Hey, man, this is your team. You're the captain.' But that's the kind of person he is. He always wanted to make me feel comfortable, always wanted to help me out. He stuck up for me a lot of times. I can't thank him enough for jump-starting my career again. I learned a lot from him. He kind of gave me the confidence back that I needed to be a player.''

Buchholz recalled his 2007 no-hitter against Baltimore and how Varitek helped calm his nerves.

"Early in the game, I shook him off a couple of times and had a couple of missiles hit,'' said Buchholz. "They were caught, but after that it was like, 'OK, I'm just going to throw whatever he puts down.' When the game started speeding up on me, a couple of times I remember him calling time out and running out (to the mound) and telling me to take a couple of deep breaths and to throw a pitch down-and-away to get a ground ball and get out of an inning.

"That's what I'll always remember about him, that he was a guy who could calm you down whenever things were starting to speed up.''

Varitek and the Red Sox have had some discussions about keeping Varitek in the organization to help with both pitchers and catchers.

"Now that he's going to retire,'' said Ortiz, "he's the kind of person this organization is going to need keep very close. This is a guy who did nothing but good things.''

"It'd be good for the pitchers,'' said Buchholz, "but it would be really good for the catchers, especially younger guys coming up because he's such an asset and resource for guys who want to learn about the game. Having a guy who's played for so many years, and played in Boston, would be a great asset.''