At JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida this afternoon, the man who caught more games as a Red Sox player called it a career; Red Sox captain, catcher, and team leader Jason Varitek officially announced his retirement. Throughout his career, Varitek was known for his toughness and his poise under pressure, but as said goodbye to the game, he could not help but become emotional. In particular, he struggled to hold back tears while thanking his teammates, who showed up in force to see him off.
Varitek touched on his desire to retire as a Red Sox player and not to play anywhere else. In 15 seasons with the team, he caught more games, amassed more hits and hit more home runs than any other Red Sox catcher, including the great Carlton Fisk. Only three players in the team’s history played longer without ever wearing another uniform- Ted Williams, Carl Yaztremski and Jim Rice. To the end Jason Varitek was the ultimate Red Sock and the ultimate teammate.
It is hard to imagine any other catcher in the game ever earning more accolades from his pitchers than Jason Varitek did. During the 2008 off-season when Varitek was a free agent, Curt Shilling made it a point to tell his employers to “bring back Tek.” Derek Lowe claimed that during his 2002 no hitter, he never once shook off his catcher, he just got the sign, nodded, and threw to Jason Varitek’s glove. Jonathan Papelbon recently said “He showed me how to be a Major League Baseball player with honesty, hard work and integrity without ever having to say one word.” Even the one pitcher Varitek could never really handle gushed about him. “”The way he prepared and led the Boston Red Sox over the last 15 years has been an inspiration to all who have watched,” Tim Wakefield said of his teammate of 15 years. From Pedro Martinez to Jon Lester, every one who ever threw to Varitek loved his catching.
For all this accomplishments on the field, Jason Varitek will be remembered as much for his leadership as anything he did as a player. In 2004, after the leading the team to their first World Series Championship since 1918, he was officially made the captain, the first Red Sox player to hold that honor since Jim Rice. It was at his teammate’s behest that he wore the letter “c” on his jersey from that point on, highlighting the respect they had for their leader.
It was hardly surprising then that almost the entire team showed up to say goodbye. It was clear just how much that meant to him as he looked out at the crowd gathered inJetBluePark, trying to compose himself. For Jason Varitek it was easier to take a head on collision at the plate then to say goodbye to his teammates. That is what is made him the player he was for the past 15 years and that is why he will be so missed.