I think I remember when it happened.
It was his first home appearance of the year, against the Rays. Jason Varitek stepped into the batters box to his entrance music (which is, for the record, "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down), and I made some sort of sarcastic comment to my friend, you know something along the lines of "you're long past anyone calling you Superman, Tek" (I hate that song). Somehow about 200 feet away, our beloved Captain must have heard me and taken exception to my sarcasm, because a few seconds later, that ball was planted squarely out of the park.
At first it seemed freakish. We all knew that there was a quick hot streak, but before we knew it, that slugger with the "C" on his uniform would revert to the zombie we all knew far too well from 2009. Then time went by, and the home runs have kept coming. Gradually, even the most cynical start to think deep down: "with all the rest he's getting, what if he actually can keep this up through the year?" He'd be hands down the best backup catcher in baseball. Is it possible?
Now that we're two months into the season, does it look like it might actually happen?
Now before I delve into this anymore, let me just admit here openly that before the season started, I was already scheming how we could gracefully cut ties with our Captain to bring up Mark Wagner or Dusty Brown to get some work in the big leagues.
This season started off oddly for all of these veterans. It's well-documented how Mike Lowell has been fighting to get someone anywhere to let him play baseball, Tim Wakefield has been unhappy with the fact that he wasn't chosen as one of the five, David Ortiz spent the first month trying to get reporters to shut up and let him play baseball. The only one who never made headlines about his playing situation was Varitek.
Maybe it's because he just doesn't care about the spotlight, maybe because he's that great leader that earned his "C", and maybe it's just because he knew when he picked up his player option that he was not going to be the go-to guy. But the fact remains that Varitek has appeared to relish his role as a backup catcher, even vehemently defending Victor Martinez when reporters were criticizing his throwing ability and defense.
That grace, combined with his absolutely out-of-this-world start, has made Varitek's 2010 one of the most impressive of the team so far. Now he's started out well before; he's actually had some level of history with starting out the season very well. If you remember last year, he was actually looking better than anyone expected, batting around .240 but with 10 homers at the end of May.
Of course, that was in 138 at bats. This year, he's only gotten 7 of them, but hitting .269, and those 7 homers came in just 67 official at bats.
That's one homer every 9 at bats.
One every nine.
For comparisons sake, this year's surprise Home Run hitting phenom is the Blue Jay's Jose Bautista. His 16 homers have come at a rate of one every 11.625 at bats. Obviously, that's a more fair sample size, but still, our Captain is off to an absolutely torrid start, especially from the right side of the plate, but that's to be expected from him.
So what has brought this about? There's all kinds of things I've seen credited with this. Obviously the one that makes the most sense is just that he isn't squatting for two hours every day. He's also gained more time for lifting and batting practice, not having to spend every day studying batters' hot and cold zones and work with the pitchers. Maybe he just got some of whatever Cito Gaston has been doing to his team this year.
So the question is whether these couple of months are a fluke, or can he genuinely keep up this level of production for the year? Usually veterans hate losing playing time. It is very rare to see someone as established as Tek flourish and embrace suddenly finding himself in a backup role, but here we are two months into the season and not a word of complaint from him. If he genuinely can keep this up, he just might find the Red Sox would love to have him back for a few years to come playing backup and helping to tutor the pitching staff and whoever is catching for the Sox.
So what do you think? Can he do it? When October rolls around, will we still call him "Superman"?