BOSTON, MA - FILE: Jason Varitek #33 of the Boston Red Sox hits a SAC single in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.
It didn't take long.
Jason Varitek made it through the first two sentences of his retirement speech before his emotions got the best of him and forced him to pause... and pause... and pause to recompose himself. Listening live, it seemed like two hours before he finally spoke again. In fact, it was only fifteen seconds, one for each year he played with the Red Sox. I wouldn't doubt if those were some of the longest seconds of Varitek's career.
For a moment it didn't look like he'd get through it. In the talk about how difficult the off season was for him and how the heft of the decision to continue his career or not was weighing him down, it wasn't hard to picture Varitek at that moment, faced with saying good bye to the team he has called home for fourteen years, turning away from the podium, waiving his hand and covering his face and seeking shelter with his family who were seated stage left.
But of course that didn't happen. The Captain stood strong and fought through it. He found the strength within himself and continued his speech. Which must have been difficult because it wasn't like he could get his mind off the enormity of his task by thinking about baseball.*
Varitek's speech was certainly not the most polished, but then the many accolades the man received over his career came from catching and hitting, not speaking. And while the words themselves were nothing special, as any actor will tell you, a good delivery can make up for almost any script. Watching the tall and muscular Varitek struggle with his feelings made the moment all the more poignant.
So why am I writing about Jason Varitek's retirement announcement? Because I didn't expect to feel anything watching it. That isn't to say I didn't appreciate Varitek during his tenure in Boston. I did. As Marc and I discussed on the most recent podcast, Varitek was a vitally important player to the only two Red Sox championships over the last 90 years, and it's possible that our inability to quantify the aspects of catcher defense that Varitek excelled most at has left us under valuing his contribution. At worst Varitek was an above average player whom everyone liked. At best he was an underground star who contributed to his team in ways we're only starting to be able to quantify.
OTM's own Cee Angi tweeted that she was preparing for some emotion during the ceremony. Understandable considering the length of time that Varitek wore a Red Sox uniform. If you've been following the team over the last decade it's difficult to think of the Red Sox without Jason Varitek, or for that matter, Tim Wakefield. However, neither was ever the best player on the team. In the early part of Tek's career, briefly Mo Vaughn and then Nomar Garciaparra shone the brightest. Then, as Nomar's career was consumed by injuries, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz stepped to the fore. In the 2004 post season, David Ortiz took center stage and then in '07 it was Ortiz again, Dustin Pedroia, and of course Josh Beckett. That's not to say Varitek wasn't there every day, doing his best to help the team win. He was. But you may not have noticed him as readily as those others.
So it was a strange sight to see the big man standing in front of his peers trying to hold back. I hadn't expected to feel anything at that point. Players move on all the time in baseball. They're there one year and gone the next. It's part of being a fan. But Varitek was different. I know because as he got choked up, I felt a lump in my throat.
Like Varitek though I managed to fight it back. 'What am I doing?' I thought. 'This is ridiculous.' But it wasn't ridiculous. It was a genuine moment for me because it was one for Varitek. Many of the cliched platitudes he heaped upon his teammates and coaches over the next few minutes helped me keep things in check, but I'll admit, when he said to his children, "Just always know, daddy loves you as far as the east is from the west" I came close to losing it.
I admit, I'm a sucker for schmaltzy stuff sometimes. I've been known to cry at movies featuring talking animals. But on a day when he was giving up the job he trained his whole life to do and did successfully for a decade and a half, to me at least, Varitek's love for his kids stood out. Maybe it's because I have children and of all his complicated feelings yesterday, I can relate most to his love of his kids.
It must be tough to stand up in front of everyone and bare your soul. But Jason Varitek did it yesterday and, like his fourteen years with the Boston Red Sox, he did it well and he did it the right way. He should be proud of that.