Ortiz on Varitek: ‘We’re going to miss him’

It’s been pretty clear for some time that Jason Varitek’s career
with the Boston Red Sox was coming to a close.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington signed two catchers in
the winter and offered the soon-to-be 40-year-old Varitek an
invitation to camp as a show of respect.

Pitchers and catchers reported, but Varitek did not. The first
full-squad workout was held, and Varitek was nowhere to be

Still, there remained a glimmer of hope with most teammates that
they would show up one morning, walk into the clubhouse and see
Varitek sitting in front of his locker getting ready for the day’s

Not anymore. The news is out that Varitek has decided to retire,
and even though it was expected for much of the winter, it doesn’t
make it any easier to take for the Red Sox.

”It’s something that we are used to it, seeing Tek walking
around and doing his thing,” slugger David Ortiz said Tuesday.
Been a while since you walk in here and the first person you see is
Tek. Walking in and not seeing him, it’s like something

”Watching Tek and this decision, hopefully he feels good about
it. Hopefully he’s being honest with himself,” Ortiz said. ”Man,
I mean we’re going to miss him.”

He is expected to hold a news conference Thursday to put a bow
on his brilliant career. Varitek spent all 15 of his big league
seasons with the Red Sox after coming over in a trade from Seattle
in 1997, using his relentless work ethic and unyielding tenacity to
give the franchise a new, gritty identity.

”I was expecting Tek to play until he was 60,” said
right-hander Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter to Varitek in
2007. ”He was awesome behind there. I still think he could be
awesome behind the plate and have a job in baseball. That was his
and his family’s decision.”

He served as the team’s security guard, never more so than on
July 24, 2004, when Yankees star Alex Rodriguez bristled after
being hit by a pitch from Bronson Arroyo. Varitek immediately
stepped in, cursed at Rodriguez and shoved his catcher’s mitt in
A-Rod’s face, a conversation that cleared the benches and sparked
the Red Sox to an 11-10 comeback victory.

Manager Bobby Valentine is in his first season in Boston, but
the significance of that moment has already been hammered home.

”He is a man’s man,” Valentine said. ”He was a big hitter
needed. He was a leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat
up Alex. All that stuff is good stuff. He was exactly what he was
supposed to be.”

Varitek’s smoldering intensity and icy glare weren’t just
intimidating to opponents. Buchholz said it took him about two
years to build up the courage to start picking his brain.

”He’s a guy that you know when you’re on the mound and you
shake him off and he sort of just stares at you, you know that, `OK
I’ll throw that pitch. Don’t worry about it,”’ Buchholz said.

Even as his production dipped in recent years and he was
replaced by Victor Martinez first and then Jarrod Saltalamacchia as
the starting catcher, his influence on the team remained sky

He was ace Josh Beckett’s personal catcher to the end, and
continued to set an example with his relentless preparation and
scouting of the opponent.

”I loved working with him,” Beckett said. ”I never had a
catcher before that I felt like cared more about wanting me to be
successful even before he wanted to be successful. He’s going to be
missed, a lot, in the clubhouse and on the field.”

Saltalamacchia was struggling to find his way in the big leagues
when he came to Boston in a trade with Texas in 2010. He credits
Varitek with instilling the confidence in him that he belonged.

”That’s just the kind of person he is,” Saltalamacchia said.
”He always wanted to make me feel comfortable. He always wanted to
help me out. He stood up for me at a lot of times. I can’t thank
him enough for jumpstarting my career again.”

It would have been easy for Varitek to let the struggling
26-year-old hang out there with no guidance, likely ensuring that
he held on to his starting position for a little while longer. But
Varitek not only took him under his wing, he told the pitching
staff to embrace Saltalamacchia.

”It was just kind of overwhelming,” Saltalamacchia said. ”I
didn’t expect him to be so helpful and say, `Hey, this is your

”No, you’re the captain. This is your team.”

In some ways, it probably always will be. His No. 33 jersey
remains a popular seller with the team’s blue-collar fan base and
there have been discussions about Varitek taking a job within in
the organization.

”Especially now that he’s going to retire, it’s the kind of
person that this organization needs to keep very close,” Ortiz
said. ”This is a guy who does nothing but add things, good

”It was an honor for me to be his teammate,” Bi Papi

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