McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

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McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It began last September, two days after their season had flamed out in Baltimore. Six months later, the gradual dismantling of the Red Sox continues, unabated.

The manager is gone, and so is the general manager who hired him. The pitcher who very nearly set the franchise record for most wins in franchise history retired two weeks ago, and Thursday, the catcher -- stalwart and team captain -- followed him out the door. Together, they had parts of 32 seasons together in Red Sox uniforms.

In 2004, when the franchise rid itself of the ghosts and ended the title drought, it was said: These are not your father's Red Sox anymore.

Now, just eight years later, they're not even those Red Sox anymore.

Time marches on, and with it, inexorably, go the veteran players.

For the longest time, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were as much a part of the Red Sox as Fenway itself. Now, they each have the dreaded ''ex'' in front of their names: ex-player, ex-captain, ex-Red Sox.

Past tense.

When Varitek arrived, the Red Sox hadn't figured it out yet, but they were getting there. In 1999, just his second full season, they reached the ALCS, only to demonstrate how far they still had to go.

Varitek was part of the learning curve, the long, slow climb to the top of the mountain. As he learned behind the plate, the pitching got better, too. The two were not unrelated.

The arrival of Curt Schilling in 2004, to go with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, created arguably the best rotation in modern Red Sox history and Varitek was the one in charge, a year before he was given the captaincy.

He cajoled, pushed, and shaped them, and when Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms after the final out of Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, it was, in every sense of the word, a leap of faith.

Months earlier, Varitek was responsible for an epochal turning point in franchise history. A mid-summer grudge match with the Yankees had turned ugly and Varitek, no fan of Alex Rodriguez to begin with, had had enough of Rodriguez's angry declarations toward Red Sox pitchers.

Varitek intercepted any bad intentions A-Rod had after being hit by a pitch, and gave the Yankee third baseman a facewash with his catcher's mitt.

To this day, eight years later, that image -- Red Sox catcher puts Yankee star in his place -- is the screen-saver, the bedroom poster, the avatar of Red Sox fans everywhere.

The picture said something. It said the Red Sox would not be pushed around by the Yankees, that they would not bow to their tormentors. Three months later, in St. Louis, it was as if Varitek's line-in-the-sand moment was ultimately validated.

After two World Series in the span of four seasons, success for the Red Sox dried up. The trajectory has plain and unsettling. From the 2007 title, the Sox went to Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, to getting swept in the 2008 Division Series to two straight playoff DNQs.

In the interim, Wakefield and Varitek were both marginalized as players, their contributions diminished. Wakefield returned to spot starter, Varitek to backup catcher, and this spring, they read the proverbial writing. It was time to go.

Now, the Red Sox are someone else's team. Perhaps they belong to Dustin Pedroia, as vocal as Varitek has been stoic and quietly steady. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, they will soon belong to someone who has not yet played a major-league game -- say, Will Middlebrooks, or perhaps someone still in the lower minor leagues.

Whomever becomes the face of the franchise, it's doubtful that his career will last in Boston as long as Varitek's did. It's virtually certain that that career will not span eras the way Varitek's did, with as many defining moments, or transcendent events.

Should the Red Sox win a third championship in this young century, it won't have the same impact as the first one in 2004, or for that matter, the one that followed in 2007, guaranteeing that the first was not a fluke.

You may not recognize what's left of those Red Sox. But you surely will not forget them.

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins' third line has been reborn under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, and the players are now openly admitting they desperately needed a change.

Claude Julien never trusted Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes enough defensively to play them together, but this line has blossomed under Cassidy: Six goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in seven games. They’ve survived in the defensive zone by rarely playing there. Instead, they push the pace, make plays to keep the puck out of the D-zone and, most importantly, keep producing the secondary offense that wasn’t there in the first 55 games of the season. 

No one has been freed from the shackles more than Spooner, who is back playing his natural center position after being forced to play left wing under Julien. The 25-year-old said Tuesday that getting a clean slate with a new coach has been extremely beneficial to him, and that perhaps he didn't always love playing for the guy now minding the bench in Montreal. 

“I felt like the last coach ... he just didn’t really trust me,” said Spooner, who has two goals and six points along with a plus-1 rating in seven games post-Julien. “It might've been kind of on me not really playing to the potential that I have, but at the same time . . . I just don’t think that he really liked me as a player. It’s kind of in the past now. It’s just a part of the game. It’s up to me to just go out there and just play, and not have that stuff in the back of my mind. 

“I just kind of have to go out there and believe in myself and I think at times I wasn’t really going out there and doing that. Maybe that’s something to learn. This sport has ups and downs, and I’ve had my downs. You learn that you can just sort of push through it. If you do that then things can be good.”

Spooner has 10 goals and 33 points along with a minus-3 this season, and could potentially surpass last year's numbers (13-36-49) in his second full season. 

Most felt that the speedy, skilled Spooner would be one of the big beneficiaries of the move from Julien to Cassidy, and now he’s showing that with a new lease on life in Boston. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while it’s all happening around the NHL world ahead of tomorrow’s NHL trade deadline.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eric Engels says that a torturous February shows that nothing will come easy for the Montreal Canadiens.

*Some raw locker room video from the Florida Panthers with local D-man Keith Yandle holding court with reporters.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has some early thoughts, and some praise, for the Washington Capitals landing puck-moving D-man and big ticket rental player Kevin Shattenkirk.

*The Toronto Maple Leafs up their playoff cred by landing gritty, big third-line center Brian Boyle ahead of the trade deadline.

*Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the city of Chicago’s longest-tenured teammates having spent the last 12 years together with the Blackhawks.

*Patrice Bergeron and Toucher and Rich are getting together for their 10th annual Cuts for a Cause, which will be on March 27.

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/community/cuts-for-a-cause

*For something completely different: Jimmy Kimmel gives his perspective of the debacle that went down at the end of the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/watch-jimmy-kimmel-on-oscars-best-picture-award-mistake-w469552