You’re Jason Varitek: you will not play for another team, you will not come to spring training, you’re OK with that
By Earl Nash
You’re Jason Varitek and you are trying to decide whether to retire, or go to spring training. There are rumors that you may sign with another team, but, anyone who knows you, expects that’s not going to happen.
The fans don’t know that the toughest part about retiring will be missing the guys and the locker room chatter and poking fun at each others quirks and foibles and the pranks; the shaving cream pies and the Icy-Hot applied inside the base coach’s jock. And, sitting down with a younger guy in front of his locker, when he has hit bottom and needs a few words from a veteran who has been “brought down to zero, pulled out and put back there.”*
Most people only see the media image of the tough, gritty guy with the rock-chiseled face, the guy who stuck his glove in A-Rod’s face; they don’t know the other half of you that you discovered during the most painful period of your life.
You were dealing with divorce and your team, your team, who honored you by making you one of only three captains with Yaz and Rice in team history, suddenly demoted you to back-up catcher, half way into the season in 2009. You said to yourself: “How am I going to embrace this?” And, your dad went into a coma in Florida and then you broke your foot and you felt like you were “brought down to zero.”*
The pain was so overwhelming that you were finally receptive to counseling and, after hundreds of hours of talking, which was not your natural inclination, you found another side of yourself; your animus, your Yin, your emotions. So you, Jason Varitek, the hard-edged, silence shows strength hero marched stolidly into the fearful darkness and overcame and turned your pain into an opportunity for personal growth. Today, you can even joke about living in a house full of females [your three girls and their step-mother, Catherine] and say how much you enjoy taking off your catcher’s mask and putting on what you call your “girl hat.”
You hold Catherine and the three girls gently in your thoughts and it makes the trauma of leaving the game easier to handle. How can anyone who has never performed in The Show understand what it is like to walk away? You flash back to what that judge said in court when he granted you and Karen your divorce: “behave as if you were never married to each other.” And, you wonder: “Is that the way I need to leave baseball?”
And, what a year to leave the team; that September Swoon, when nothing you said to the guys, trying to rally the crew as their captain, seemed to work. Then, after the season, the media started looking for someone to blame, besides the three culprits, and implied that you failed to step up and take charge of the team. But, you did try and Peedy stuck up for you in the press. You hate to leave the team, as their captain, with the bad taste of the end of last year still lingering. And you remember what Wake said about you recently: “He’s really the glue that holds the whole team together.” Last year, last game…
"“There were three men out…and the season lost And the tarpaulin was rolled…upon the winter frost.”[“Night Game,” Paul Simon]"
You’re Jason Varitek and you think of your counterpart, your respected “arch-enemy” Jorge Posada, who recently decided to hang ‘em up; if he did, maybe you can too. You remember how difficult it was for Jorge to lose his starter role and how hard it was for him to lose that momentum, that being in the flow of the game every day with all that time to spend on the bench. Same thing happened mid-season 2009 to you, so you feel a kinship with Jorge; he was tough and gritty, a low-profile, taciturn catcher, who ran the game with quiet dignity.
But, when Salty and Ryan came along, even though they were the seeds of your own demise, your generous heart and respect for The Game and loyalty to the team, compelled you to pass on what you had learned in two decades behind a plate. But, you knew that one thing you couldn’t teach them was your ability to build trust with the pitchers; that only happens as you prove to them, day after day, that they can rely on you…It takes some more time than others….You were pleased to find that, all that time in counseling paid off in baseball too; you were able to communicate with greater ease, even humor, and you were genuinely glad to do what you could to prepare your replacements to perform well for your team.
You remember the Old Tek, the one who made such a poor impression on your wife Catherine when you first met her at Becketts’ charity bowling tournament, that summer at the Lucky Strike Lanes across from Fenway. You pulled a John Alden and sent a friend over to ask if you could meet her. She agreed to meet you, but Catherine was not impressed that you were the captain of the Red Sox, a major league ball player; she said later that she found you “dull.” Yeah that was the old me, you recall. Then, you have to laugh about how her second impression was even worse.
A few weeks later you were having a drink at the Howl At The Moon piano bar downtown and you spotted her chatting with some friends. You were the Old Tek then and you brazenly walked over to her table and barged in to introduce yourself. Later, Catherine laughed when she told you that she thought you were, what were her words? Oh, yeah: “The biggest jerk ever… a pompous guy.’’ She said her only impression of you was from what she heard in the media. She said she heard you “had a reputation” and her first thought was to stay away. At least, that night, although she could not imagine you in her future, she agreed to exchange phone numbers.
But, one good part of the Old Tek was being persistent; you had learned from baseball that success required, not just natural talent, but effort, hard work and determination; so you pestered her for six weeks for a date, until she finally relented.
Thanks to your breakthroughs in counseling you were able to open up to Catherine. She admired your strength of character and how you had a thick skin, how you were able to let things to roll off your shoulders, but she was also attracted to that other side that you had discovered during the “dark night of your soul.”
And, so many memories drift in from all your years in the game. The day they surprised you with a home and road jersey with the capital C sewn on, just below the heart and to the right; they named you captain of the team and you wore that scarlet C with pride; you were in great company with the iconic Yaz and the quiet star, Jim Rice, both now in the Hall of Fame. You remember the day of June 13th when the public address announcer at Fenway Park broadcast the news to the fans in the stands that your third daughter, Caroline, had been born and they played Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” And, you remember, it was the 8th inning. And, you can see the replays of the final outs in the World Series…You rushing toward the mound and jumping into the pitcher’s ecstatic embrace…and holding the World Series’ trophies, and the awards, the parades, the venerable green chapel on Yawkey way filled with another sell out crowd of the Fenway Faithful…
Some guy called on the radio said they should retire your number with the other Red Sox greats and you easily recall them: Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9), Jim Rice (14), Carlton Fisk (27), and Pesky ; they changed the rules for old Jphnny and guys who come later. Part of you feels old “33” deserves to be up there on the wall, but, when you think of Williams and Yaz…well, maybe, who knows?
You’re Jason Varitek and you think that this retirement stuff would have been way more difficult for the Old Tek; the one who people treated like a robot, the strong, silent macho Tek: if you have feelings don’t let them show, just get the job done. But now, the more complete human being Tek, can joke about living in a house with four females, can watch DVDs with the girls and even have a favorite Disney princess [Belle, not Albert], and can, with the beaten, once-broken, fingers of a veteran catcher, quickly and gently arrange hair into a ponytail.
You’re Jason Varitek, but not the same one who the Red Sox signed out of Georgia Tech; not the same Tek whose identity was essentially: ballplayer, catcher, captain. Today you are a much better Jason Varitek, a more complete human being.
You’re Jason Varitek and you are ready make that phone call to Cherington; a call that will instantly transmogrify you into a former baseball star and into a stellar sparkling star in the Firmament of Fatherhood. To your three Grade school girls, Alexandra, Kendall, and Caroline, you continue to be “just their dad;” they love you unconditionally, automatically and infinitely. To them you are an All-Star, Hall of Fame, Most Valuable Dad.
You’re Jason Varitek, you’ve told the Red Sox that you are retiring and, now, unlike your baseball career, as each season passes, you will just get better and better.
*[“Chain of Sorrow,” John Prine]
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