Varitek plans to play beyond 2011

Varitek plans to play beyond 2011
February 20, 2011, 10:37 pm
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By SeanMcAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek will turn 39 a few weeks into the regular season, an age when most players are eying retirement and the opportunity to relax.

Varitek is about to begin his 14th season with the Red Sox, all of them spent playing a punishing position.

But instead of getting closer to the finish line, Varitek hopes to keep playing. And not just for another season or two.

Asked Sunday if he could picture himself doing what Bob Boone (who played until 42) and Carlton Fisk (active until 45), Varitek didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely,'' he said. "I think once you're done playing, there's no making a comeback. If my body holds up and I'm able to do the things I can still do, I'll play as long I can.

"If I start compromising my livelihood for my kids and stuff later in life, then I've got to start questioning things. If I'm not putting myself in a competitive spot to help a team win, then I have to question things again.

"But . . . is that what I envision? Yes, that's what I envision . . . You can only play this game for so long and as long as your body holds out and you can be productive and do things. I love playing.''

This could be viewed as the second season of the rest of Varitek's career. Last year, for the first time since 2001, when he broke his elbow, Varitek didn't play at least 100 games, and while he missed time with a broken foot, that had little to do with injuries.

The Sox went with Victor Martinez as their primary catcher and Varitek was relegated to a backup spot. He embraced the role without complaint and, especially early in the season, hit well. When Varitek injured his foot in June, he had an OPS of .871, a way-more-than-respectable number for a 38-year-old catcher.

After rehabbing his foot, Varitek came back in September and was entirely out of rhythm at the plate, collecting just one hit in his final 17 at-bats.

Still, what Varitek took away from last year was the passion he still has for the game. The skills, he showed in the first half, are still there, too, as long as he's not overworked.

He would, of course, prefer to play more. But in time, he learned how to make the transition to backup.

"Accepted or embraced it, I think theres two different things because things can change in a hurry on one end,'' he said. "You cant not not be prepared. Just like Vic Martinez last year hitting his thumb, you got to be ready now right in the middle of that game. So accepting is different than embracing it. I think embracing whatever role that you have for the betterment of this team and trying to do what we want to do is win another championship.''

As Varitek recounted, the transition actually began the year before when Martinez, obtained at the July 31 trade deadline, became the de-facto starter behind the plate.

"I had a good month to two months of being in that role in 2009,'' he said, "It was at a different situation than it might have been having the ability to prepare for it, for winter, for spring training, etc. I think that was harder than it was doing it.

"But then I needed to learn what I need to do to stay sharp. That still will be a work in progress because I think we did a lot. We did things with catching instructor Gary Tuck and did things with hitting coach Dave Magadan that allowed that at different times. It allowed me to be a little more free and active on the bench and those type things.''

This season, Varitek will serve as the backup and mentor to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with whom he's highly impressed. A number of veteran pitchers have already remarked that Saltalamacchia's personality and style remind them of Varitek himself.

"Salty's going to be Salty,'' said Varitek. "Hopefully, he's not living with constant comparisons. I believe Salty is his own person and he's going be his own player. And he's extremely talented. I don't know if I had those abilities that he has when I was that young and breaking in.

"Yeah, we're both big catchers, we switch-hit, strong-armed throwers and love to play the game. But his work ethic and the things he's shown are the reason we've been able to create a bond right away.''

Varitek urges patience with Saltalamacchia and a chance to learn from his growing pains.

"We may see him great early in the season,'' he said, "or we may see him not-so-great early. But he's going to be a good player - no two ways about it. He's too gifted and works too hard not to be.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam