From the last time I saw Tek play live: last August, on my birthday. The Red Sox lost, but Tek went yard. Thanks for that and a hundred other memories, Captain. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Well, everyone, we made it through another winter. And even though it's been an unnervingly mild one in New England, it seems like it's lasted forever. It's been a long, slow slog through an endless tundra of fried chicken jokes, underwhelming free agents, and digital waiting rooms. Like the retreat of the Grande Armee, if Napoleon had been defeated outside Moscow by a light-hitting Baltimore second-sacker. But at last we've reached warmer climes, and the baseball season beckons. Let's get recapping.
Spring training kicked off last week, with the Sox' whole roster in Fort Myers prepping for the 2012 season. This evening, there'll even be a televised game, as the Red Sox take on Boston College with Felix Doubront on the mound. It's a split-squad game, and it's against a college team, but it's baseball on TV. At long last. For fans, this is one of the best times of year. Cee Angi put together a few words on why the spring holds such appeal. In more Boston-specific terms, Ben Buchanan laid out the main issues facing the Sox this spring.
Among the many questions the Red Sox face this season are two left over from last year's squad. First, how to deal with the lingering stench of last year's collapse. Ben offered his thoughts on Tuesday, suggesting that the Sox are best served by putting it behind them and focusing on the season to come. Second: where to hit the $142 million man, Carl Crawford? Matt Kory took a look at the dueling demands of offensive efficiency and player confidence.
All these questions, of course, are aimed at figuring out the best possible roster to send into the titanic slugfest that is the AL East. How will the Red Sox stack up in baseball's best division? Ben got started on a position-by-position breakdown, examining the catchers on Wednesday. In other roster-examining news, Matt Sullivan provided the latest edition of his "Best Tools" series, with analysis of "Best Defense." In a stunning upset, the winner was Dustin Pedroia.
In news of new and exciting media ventures, OTM's going cinematic! Or, at least, YouTubey! Marc kicked off the new Over the Monster YouTube channel, rocking a Captain Hammer shirt and chatting about Jason Varitek. (On whom more later) This did lead me to hope that before showing A-Rod a faceful of glove, Tek had told him that said mitt was not the hammer. A level of nerdery which pretty much ensures I'll not be allowed on camera anytime soon. In other cool projects, Marc's assembling an all-star roster of baseball scribes to write "The Hall of Very Good," a book devoted to those players that won't ever see Cooperstown, but have earned bronze plaques in our hearts. Keith Foulke comes to mind for me, and I'm certain everyone's got a list. Contribute to the Kickstarter, the book's going to be amazing.
Notes galore! On Monday, Marc talked Ellsbury extensions and Albers mechanics. Tuesday, it was the legend of Bobby Valentine, Volstead Act enforcer and taunter of Yankee fans. Wednesday saw Ben discuss Ryan Kalish's rehab and Carl Crawford's bunting, while Friday saw a look at Crawford's wrist injury and Papi playing at first during spring training. Marc took time out on Thursday to report on Alfredo Aceves's role on the Sox staff, and provide a lead-in to the big story of the week.
And it was quite the story. Jason Varitek, captain of the Red Sox team since 2005, the man who donned the pads and mask for Boston more than anyone else, decided to hang 'em up. A career as long and successful as Tek's creates a ton of storylines, and we covered them all this week. Matt Kory looked at the Captain's place in Red Sox history. We got a rundown of Tek's finest moments as a player from lone1c. Cee contributed her memories of her first trip to Fenway, and getting to see Varitek play in person. Matt Sullivan gave us some perspective on Varitek's peak, which happened to coincide with Boston's two championship seasons. And while that peak was relatively short, and not quite Hall of Fame caliber, Marc reminds us that we're only just now starting to be able to measure the true impact of catchers on calling games, and it's likely that Tek's reputation will benefit greatly as those metrics become available.
Finally, on Thursday, the time had come to say goodbye. Jason Varitek gave his retirement speech at JetBlue Park, standing at the same podium as longtime teammate Tim Wakefield had two weeks before. We were all watching, and fortunately Matt Kory, out of all of us, managed to pull it together long enough to write about the emotional impact of Tek's farewell.
It was already strange enough to contemplate a Red Sox season without Terry Francona. Then Tim Wakefield bid farewell to the team a few weeks back. Now Jason Varitek's gone off into the sunset. I've been trying to wrap my head around the change, to figure out why it's such a jarring shift. This afternoon, though, I figured it out.
I found myself in conversation with an older gent, who lit up upon finding out I wrote about the Red Sox. We chatted a bit about the coming crop of Sox rookies and prospects, and as we talked about Jose Iglesias and whether he'd ever hit, he mentioned his memories of Rico Petrocelli, "the best defensive shortstop we ever had." The only shortstop he could think of who hit, really, was Johnny Pesky. And he mentioned that he'd seen Pesky, and Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams, when he was a teenager, and those were the players he'd always remember as the best. "Everyone since has been bums," he said with a smile.
It's been a while since I was a teenager (something for which I'm profoundly grateful), and I've certainly come to love the current crop of Sox stars. But there is a fondness, a completely irrational nostalgia, for the Sox I watched as a high schooler. Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, obviously. But also Trot Nixon, Troy O'Leary, Darren Lewis, Rich Garces, Derek Lowe... Those were the guys I grew up with, the players who first made me really and truly a Red Sox fan. Wake and Tek were the last of those guys. And now that they've retired, the Red Sox I grew up with are really gone, as much as Pudge's, and Yaz's, and Pesky's are gone. It's going to take some getting used to.
But while we, while I, adjust to a Red Sox franchise without the man who's been its heart for so long, enjoy your retirement, Tek. You've earned it. "The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won." We'll never forget what you gave us.