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Varitek’s absence due to father’s illness

03.10.10 at 3:56 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — While talking to the media regarding Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement, Jason Varitek divulged that his recent absence has been because of his father’s illness. Varitek, who left the Red Sox‘ camp late last week, didn’t get into particulars regarding what the medical issue was.

“As far as details on it, I’ll grant my mom’s wishes and kind of keep things … we’re just in a stage where we need to keep things in-house until we have a little more direction where things are going to go. It’s my dad,” He’s fighting a battle right now. We’ll leave it at that.”

Varitek, who returned to Fort Myers last Tuesday night, didn’t know what his schedule would be going forward, not ruling out taking another hiatus

.”It’s my dad so I’m not going to say I’m here for good,” Varitek explained. “As far as extended period, I have no idea. I knew I had to come back, get outside a little bit, kind of get refreshed, and get back to work a little bit and make sure the family’s stable, which is most important.

“It’s a weird feeling. It’s just a different feeling. I was tired today. It’s been a stressful, straining week, five to six days. Guys have been great. I had a ton of text messages from Theo down to Tito and all my teammates. Family has been great. Friend support in the area has been awesome. I’m just very thankful that so many people reached out.”

Lester happy with outing, not maple bats

03.10.10 at 2:53 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester came away from his second outing of the spring fairly encouraged, saying “I actually felt timing-wise the other day, but today I just got some better results. As the game went on I felt a little bit better, got the ball down. Made some good pitches with my changeup. All in all I thought I threw the ball pretty well today.”

Lester’s line: 2 2/3 innings, 57 pitches (33 strikes), one unearned run, two hits, four strikeouts and a walk. The lefty’s goals? To work on his fastball away, changeup, and getting strike one.

But while the outing was fairly innocuous for Lester, his comments regarding the use of maple bats were anything but.

“Any time you step on the field, you’re in danger of something hitting you, whether it’s a ball or a bat or whatever. It’s just kind of part of the game. It kind of sucks that baseball hasn’t done a very good job with the maple bats,” said Lester, who said he has sat on one meeting regarding the subject. ” It seems like they tried to do something last year, but they just aren’t getting the results. They’re a danger to the game. They’re a danger to all the players and the fans. Hopefully they can do something about those bats.”

The impetus for the comments came from an incident in the second inning in the Sox’ game against the Rays when part of an Adrian Beltre broken bat hit the hand of Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, driving the Rays’ starter from the game.

“Hitters like them. Until you get, I guess, a serious injury I don’t think they’re going to change.”

Nomar on D&H: ‘[The tank] is empty, and I’m OK with it

03.10.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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Nomar Garciaparra appeared on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday morning to discuss his reasons for retiring, his next career as a member of the media (following a sometimes-frosty dynamic with reporters during his playing days) and the events that allowed him to resume a strong relationship with the Sox following a departure in 2004 that was, at times, acrimonious.

Highlights are transcribed below. To listen to the complete interview, click here.

How did you decide on this?

I said there was one uniform I would love to wear. I talked about this when I came to Fenway this past year with Oakland. I always had this recurring dream, to put on that uniform. It was the first uniform I’€™d worn, and I dreamt it would be my last. Today that dream comes through, thanks to Mr. Werner, Mr. Henry, Mr. Lucchino, Theo and the whole Red Sox organization. I can’€™t thank them enough for allowing me to fulfill that dream. My first dream came true in a Red Sox uniform, and that was playing in the big leagues. Another dream gets to come true as well, finishing my career and retiring as a member of the Red Sox.

There are so many emotions going through me right now as I try to take it all in, but I think the way Red Sox Nation ‘€” the fans ‘€” have just embraced me throughout my career, not only as a member of the Red Sox but after being a Red Sox as well, I can’€™t tell you how many times I had people come up and say, “Thank you. We love you. We appreciate you.” That has stuck. The feeling has always been mutual. Hopefully, with today, I really show them that I was sincere when I told them that the same feeling was always there and I love them just as much. Read the rest of this entry »

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Transcript of Nomar’s press conference

03.10.10 at 12:39 pm ET
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Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra announced his retirement as a member of the Red Sox after signing a one-day minor league contract to return to the organization with whom he began his professional career in 1994. Garciaparra was selected as a first-round draft pick that summer, and spent parts of nine years in the major leagues starting in 1996, including a 1997 Rookie of the Year campaign, a 1998 season when he was the runner up in the American League MVP race and a pair of years in 1999 and 2000 when he won batting titles.

“I’ve always had a recurring dream, to be able to retire in a Red Sox uniform,” said Garciaparra. “Today I get to fulfill that dream and retire as a Red Sox. Earlier today, I signed a minor league contract to be a part of the organization once again. I was getting choked up then, and I’m getting choked up now. I’ve got the chills, but to be able to have that dream come true, I really just can’t put into words because of what this organization has always meant to me, meant to my family, the fans, I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there, and to be able to tell people that I came back home to be a part of Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill.”

“The way the city, the fans embraced me, I always just felt that connection,” he continued. “For me, I always said, ‘You know what? I really, truly always wanted that to be the last uniform I ever put on.’ Today I get to do that.”

A transcript of the press conference, in which Garciaparra was joined by Sox GM Theo Epstein and CEO Larry Lucchino, follows. Garciaparra also appeared on the Dale & Holley Show to discuss his decision. To listen to that interview, click here.

Theo Epstein: My part is pretty simple. I am here to announce that we’ve signed Nomar Garciaparra to a contract to return home to the Boston Red Sox, and we’re thrilled about that. We welcome him back. And I’ll turn it over to Nomar for the rest of the announcement.

Nomar Garciaparra: I’m about to take off to the minor league facility right now. Read the rest of this entry »

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Francona remembers time with Nomar

03.10.10 at 10:15 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A few quick updates from Red Sox manager Terry Francona before Nomar Garciaparra’s return to the Sox. (In case you missed it, Nomar is signing a one-day minor-league contract to retire as a member of the organization he began with.)

– Francona talked at length about his time with Garciaparra, which included a stint in the Arizona Fall League. The Red Sox manager said that while in the AFL former Sox manager Kevin Kennedy and his bench coach, Tim Johnson, had come out to see Garciaparra, and asked Francona if the prospect could play second base. The Sox, of course, chose to move John Valentin over to second instead. “I remember telling Kevin, ‘I don’t know who you have at shortstop, but you might want to move them to shortstop because this kid can play,'” Francona said.

Francona also noted that while Garciaparra wasn’t pulling the ball in the AFL “you could see it coming.”

“Any time a 20-year-old kid personally hands out Christmas cards three weeks early, he’s got his head screwed on right,” Francona said. “He was smart and asked good questions.”

The Sox manager also noted that he didn’t understand the magnitude of trading Garciaparra in 2004, saying the shortstop was probably “Boston-ed out.” “I just had no idea,” Francona said. “I laugh now with Theo about it. It was a big deal … How big a deal it was with the fans. I hadn’t been in Boston long enough to know about it.

“When it was over, laughing with Theo saying, ‘I’m behind you every step of the way, not in front of you.'”

Jason Varitek is back with the team after tending to a personal issue. Francona said that he would like to get Varitek some work in before putting him back in game action, having only had two at-bats thus for in spring training.

Mike Lowell tended to a personal issue Tuesday but was back with the team Wednesday. Francona wanted to talk to the medical staff before committing to any sort of timetable as to when Lowell might see his first game action. Lowell’s hope earlier in the week was to play in the game by the end of the week.

– The plan was to have J.D. Drew and David Ortiz take two ‘work’ days before playing in the Red Sox’ game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie Thursday. Drew sat out Tuesday with an illness, but Ortiz took a lengthy round of batting practice.

Garciaparra to retire as a Red Sox

03.10.10 at 9:13 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Lou Merloni reports that Nomar Garciaparra will sign a one-day, minor league deal with the Red Sox and then announce his retirement as a member of the organization. Garciaparra will then commence a career as a baseball analyst for ESPN.

Garciaparra was selected as a first-round pick by the Red Sox in 1994, and reached the majors late in 1996. The next year, his first as a full-timer, he won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award by hitting .306 with a .342 OBP, .534 slugging mark, 30 homers and 22 steals.

He went on to spend parts of nine seasons as a member of the Red Sox, hitting .323 with a .370 OBP, .553 slugging and .923 OPS. He was a five-time All-Star in Boston, and ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, fifth in slugging and sixth in OPS. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting .357 and .372, thus becoming the first right-handed hitter to win consecutive batting titles since Joe DiMaggio in 1939-40.

In the process, he became not only a perennial MVP candidate but also a franchise icon. For a while, it seemed impossible to imagine him in another uniform.

However, in 2004 — his final year under contract with the Sox before reaching free agency — Garciaparra suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon in spring training. His recovery proceeded more slowly than expected, sidelining him for the first two months of the season. When he did return to the field, Garciaparra was still a formidable hitter, but his defensive range at shortstop had become significantly impaired, and his health was also a question mark.

That resulted in the decision by the Red Sox to trade Garciaparra to the Cubs as part of a four-team deal that brought both Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston. Garciaparra was left to watch the Sox’ World Series run, though he insisted that he still felt involved while watching his former team celebrate its first title in 86 years.

“I felt so much a part of it,’€ he said this summer. ‘€œGetting the ring. I felt so much apart of it because it was a championship season.”

He made an emotional return to Fenway Park as a member of the Oakland A’s this past summer, going 2-for-4 and being treated to a rousing ovation.

Garciaparra played for the Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics after leaving the Sox, a time that included a 2006 campaign in which he once again earned an All-Star berth. But injuries plagued him, and as Lou Merloni describes, Garciaparra realized this offseason that — even though he still wanted to explore playing opportunities — his body was failing him. That, coupled with the opportunity to take a job with ESPN, prompted his decision to announce his retirement.

The Red Sox are holding a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Fort Myers at which Garciaparra will announce his retirement. Garciaparra, 36, concludes his career with a .313 average, .361 OBP, .521 slugging mark and .882 OPS. His OPS is the second highest of all time for a player who spent at least half of his games (min. 3000 plate appearances) playing shortstop.

Here is the Red Sox press release announcing Garciaparra’s signing with, and retirement from, the Sox:

The Boston Red Sox today signed shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to a minor league contract. Immediately following the agreement, Garciaparra announced his retirement.

The announcements were made by Executive Vice President/General Manager Theo Epstein and Garciaparra.

“From the first day I had the thrill of putting on a Red Sox uniform and playing in front of all the great fans at Fenway Park, I have felt at home in Boston,’€ said Garciaparra. ‘€œWhile I had the privilege of playing with other legendary teams, I always saw myself retiring in a Red Sox uniform. Today I am honored to live that dream thanks to Mr. Henry, Mr. Werner, Mr. Lucchino, Theo, and this wonderful organization. I thank my family, friends, teammates, fans and all who have supported me throughout this wonderful journey.”

‘€œNomar will always hold a special place in Red Sox history and in the hearts of Red Sox Nation. His accomplishments on the field and in the community place him among the greatest players to wear a Red Sox uniform,’€ said Principal Owner John Henry. ‘€œWe are very appreciative that Nomar is ending his career where it began.’€

‘€œIt was always special to watch the fans cheer when Nomar came to the plate. He gave us some of Fenway’€™s greatest moments and will forever be a special part of the team’€™s history,’€ said Chairman Tom Werner. ‘€œWe wish Nomar, his wife Mia, and their twin daughters all the best as they enter the next chapter in their lives.’€

‘€œWe are pleased that Nomar Garciaparra feels such an enduring pride in, respect for, and connection to the Boston Red Sox and Red Sox Nation. I believe I can speak for our entire organization and our passionate fan base and say those sentiments are mutual; we feel the same pride, respect, and connection to Nomar,’€ said President/CEO Larry Lucchino.  ‘€œWelcome home, Nomar.’€

Garciaparra, 36, owns a .313 (1,747-for-5,586) batting average, 229 homers and 936 RBI in 1,434 career games over 14 Major League campaigns with the Red Sox (1996-2004), Cubs (2004-05), Dodgers (2006-08) and Athletics (2009). During his nine seasons in Boston he compiled a .323 (1,281-for-3,968) batting average, 178 homers and 690 RBI in 966 games. He is fourth in club history in career batting average and fifth in slugging (.553) among players with at least 1,500 at-bats. Garciaparra also ranks among Boston’€™s top 15 in career doubles (9th, 279), extra-base hits (9th, 507), home runs (11th, 178), total bases (11th, 2,194), runs (12th, 709) and hits (14th, 1,281).

The right-handed hitter finished among the top 10 in American League Most Valuable Player voting five times with Boston, including four straight from 1997-2000. He is one of six players in Red Sox history to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .306 (209-for-684) with 122 runs, 44 doubles, 30 homers, 98 RBI and 22 steals in 1997. He was voted onto six All-Star teams including five with Boston and started at shortstop in the 1999 contest at Fenway Park.

He joins Wade Boggs (1985-88), Carl Yastrzemski (1967-68) and Ted Williams (1941-42, 47-48, 57-58) as the only players in Red Sox history to earn AL batting titles in consecutive seasons, doing so in 1999 (.357) and 2000 (.372). His .372 average in 2000 is the fourth highest in club single-season history. Garciaparra owns the 19th-highest career batting average in Major League history among players with at least 200 career home runs.

He ranked second in the AL with a .325 (1,210-for-3,725) batting average from 1997-2003, including a league-best .337 (791-for-2,349) mark over the first four years of that span. During his time with Boston he tallied 100 runs six times, 100 RBI four times and 25 homers 4 times, including a career-high 35 in 1998.

Garciaparra appeared in 32 playoff games over the course of his career, batting .321 (36-for-112) with seven homers and 24 RBI. He hit .323 (31-for-96) with seven homers and 21 RBI in 25 postseason contests with Boston.

He was originally selected by the Red Sox with the 12th overall pick in first round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech. He was dealt to the Cubs as part of a four-team trade on July 31, 2004.

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What’s New with the Red Sox: Tuesday

03.10.10 at 8:49 am ET
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Nothing fancy, just the facts.

Fort Myers was placid on Tuesday, as most of the Red Sox regulars had an abbreviated day working out at City of Palms Park while a traveling squad comprised largely of role players and a couple pitchers of note made the cross-state journey to Jupiter, Fla., for the exhibition game against the Marlins. Most notable among the performances was Tim Wakefield‘s continued strong work this spring. The 43-year-old tossed three scoreless innings, and continues to show few ill effects of the lower-back surgery that he had at the start of the offseason.

“He threw a couple of fastballs, and threw a lot of knuckleballs in the zone that were moving. It’s a nice combination,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “Age hasn’t caught up with him.”

Age and pitching mortality were not just topics for Wakefield on Tuesday:

— Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was asked to reflect on the news that Twins closer Joe Nathan has a torn ulnar collateral ligament that may require Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox closer acknowledged that the news that a colleague (statistically, the only pitcher who has been as dominant as Papelbon over the last four years) had suffered a significant injury hit home.

Even so, Papelbon insisted that a) a single injury was not, to his mind, evidence that closers represent greater health risks than other positions and b) that hearing about an injury such as Nathan’s back in the spring of 2007, when he said that he wanted to be a closer and not a starter, would not have changed his career path. From Rob Bradford’s story:

‘€œIt wouldn’€™t have affected my decision,’€ Papelbon explained. ‘€œI made my decision solely based on the contentment of my heart and what I want to show up every day and do. Not on everybody else’€™s experiences from it, based on only my own experiences from it, and that’€™s how I made my decision, period, end of story.

‘€œI had everybody and their mother, agents included, saying ‘€˜You need to be a starter. Oh, you’€™re going to make more money. Oh, you’€™ve got to stay healthy. This, that or the other thing.’€™ Right now it looks like I’€™m making the right decision. Who knows four years ago if I would have been on four All-Star rosters and won a World Series with team in ‘€™07 if I wouldn’€™t have. So it looks like right now ‘€˜Cinco Ocho’€™ is right and everybody else is wrong.”

— While Papelbon was discussing the shelf life of a closer, Daisuke Matsuzaka was considering the durability of starters. The right-hander, as he enters his fourth season in Major League Baseball after a storied career in Japan, said that he would like to pitch for another decade in the U.S., noting that his pitching role model as a child was Nolan Ryan.

Of course, Matsuzaka has gone about the notion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in a unique fashion, since he and Ryan are two of the three pitchers in MLB history to record a season of 18+ wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and at least five walks per nine innings.

— For the second straight year, Josh Reddick is killing the ball in spring training. He went 3-for-4 on Tuesday and is now hitting .471 with five extra-base hits. On the other hand, he has yet to walk in his 18 plate appearances.

Dustin Pedroia has the highest interleague average of all time. That and more revealing stats about the Sox second baseman are in the latest edition of Nuggetpalooza.

— The Red Sox have called a press conference for 10:30 am on Wednesday, but while the subject has yet to be disclosed, it is not expected to be related to Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon

‘It’s not what you think’

03.10.10 at 8:47 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox sent a buzz throughout City of Palms Park Wednesday morning when they announced there would be a 10:30 a.m. press conference. But then the line ‘it’s not what you think’ kept surfacing and it became clear that this is not expected to be about about Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell. Stay tuned …

Here is the lineup for today’s game against the Rays: Ellsbury LF, Pedroia 2B, Martinez DH, Youkilis 1B, Beltre 3B, Scutaro SS, Cameron CF, Hall LF, Brown C, Lester P. After Lester the planned pitchers are Brian Shouse, Adam Mills, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Ramon (No. 48) Ramirez, and Daniel Bard.

J.D. Drew said he is feeling better, although still has cold symptoms. He expects to be making the Thursday trip to Port St. Lucie, which will also include David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey, and a few more regulars.

Daisuke: I want to play at least 10 more years in the U.S.

03.09.10 at 4:51 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka has gone exactly halfway through his six-year contract. He is 29 years old. And the pitcher has been a professional baseball player now for 10 seasons.

Tuesday morning, he decided to take stock of his past and talk of his future.

“I think both personally and from a family standpoint we’re all enjoying our lives over here in the U.S., and if at all possible I would like to play over here as long as I can,” Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. “I guess in the very least I hope that I can play for at least another 10 years here in the U.S. Yeah, 10 years is a long time and it’s tough to imagine what it’s going to be like that far out, but at the same time, when I’m 40, or older than 40, I want to still be able to pitch.”

Then, after a pause, came a term that needed no translation.

Nolan Ryan.”

As it turns out, just before entering high school Matsuzaka got hold of the book, “Nolan Ryan’s Pitching Bible” thanks to some older teammates who had an infatuation with the major leagues. It not only changed his approach in the short term, but it helped mold the long-term goals he carries with him today.

“I read about him growing up and I saw that he worked very hard to stay in good shape, even as he got older,” said Matsuzaka of Ryan, whom the Red Sox pitcher has yet to meet. “Like him, if I could play until I was 44 or 45 that would be great.

“That book, ‘Nolan Ryan’s Pitcher’s Bible,’ left a big impression on me and it was right around then when I started weight training and working on my fitness.”

But even as the book opened up Matsuzaka’s eyes as a teenager, it wasn’t until recently that he realized what it took to truly emulate Ryan and pitch into his 40s.

“Compared to around the time I first became a professional ballplayer, my opinion has changed and developed,” said Matsuzaka regarding the difficulty that comes with having a lengthy career. “I think as I get further along and experience more years as a pitcher I’ve come to see that. It’s not enough to be healthy, but you have to healthy and perform well. You have to continue to perform at a high level and produce those results as a team. The further I get along I see that it’s difficult to sustain that over a long period of time.”

One thing Matsuzaka has going for him is the certainty of what to expect, which when he came over from Japan prior to the 2007 was something that the pitcher didn’t possess. And it is a big reason why he has no problem looking forward another 10 years in the United States.

“I think both in baseball and away from the field I knew that a lot of things were going to be new to me and things wouldn’t as smoothly as they did in Japan, so I did expect a fair amount of difficulties when I first came over here so that hasn’t been a surprise,” Matsuzaka said. “But at the same time it hasn’t been as much stress as I thought it would be.

“Sometimes feel like, ‘Wow, it’s already my fourth year, but at the same time I still have three years left in my contract.’ So even though sometimes I feel like, ‘Oh my goodness, three years have gone by already,’ I still feel at the same time there’s three years ahead of me as well.”

Papelbon: Nathan’s injury wouldn’t have affected decision

03.09.10 at 12:34 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ In the midst the Red Sox‘€™ workout at City of Palms Park Jonathan Papelbon got the news.

Joe Nathan, the reliever for the Minnesota Twins and part of Papelbon’€™s closer fraternity, had been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and would potentially need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

‘€œI didn’€™t know that,’€ Papelbon deadpanned.

‘€œFor sure it hits home for me. Any pitcher, it’€™s something that you always have to be aware of and try and not push the limits, but that’€™s such a hard thing to do. It’€™s like a high-wire act because your natural instinct is to always go out there and pitch, even when you’€™re feeling a little bit of pain.’€

Some might believe that Nathan’€™s injury will have a long-term affect on Papelbon’€™s future. The Twins’€™ reliever ‘€“ whose numbers the last four seasons mirror his Red Sox counterpart ‘€“ secured a contract rare for closers these days, signing for four years at $47 million almost two years ago.

Now Papelbon understands that the injury will open the door for people to offer yet another cynical view towards the value of inking closers to long-term deals.

‘€œThere are going to be people who jump to conclusions,’€ the Sox closer said. ‘€œI think it would be foolish to think that this position gets hurt more than this position. I don’€™t think you can necessarily say from position to position.’€

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