|Jason Varitek can walk down stairs straight so he’s good to go for 2011||02.20.11 at 1:52 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ask any athlete who has reached the golden years of his playing career and every one of them will tell you the moment you stop adapting to the changes around you is the very moment you’re career is done.
Jason Varitek is no different, as he reminded everyone on hand for a spring training presser outside the Red Sox clubhouse at the minor league complex.
“I think I’ve adapted as a human being, first and foremost, and then as a player,” Varitek said. “I’ve gone through changes that way. It’s fun for me and I love talking about the game, sharing the game and I love listening about the game, too. You can learn and soon as you’re arrogant and ignorant enough to think you can’t learn, it’s time to hang up the spikes.”
It’s the very same attitude that allowed great catchers of the past to play into their late 30s and even 40s before hanging up the spikes for good – greats like Bob Boone, Johnny Bench and of course, Carlton Fisk, who played until the ripe old age of 45.
“I love talking to Pudge whenever he comes [to Boston],” Varitek said. “I could sit and talk to him all day long. I wish he were around more often. I spent time talking to [former White Sox strength and conditioning coach] Steve Odgers, who used to work with Pudge. I think now, for me personally, the work I [did] 10 or 15 years ago, this is when it’s starting to show and pay off and do things. Maybe not as much then but it’s allowed my body a position to handle different things. If I hadn’t done that work, it’d be a lot different if all of sudden I started it.”
Odgers now works as a strength and conditioning specialist for athletes represented by Scott Boras.
For now, it’ll be Varitek – who turns 39 on April 11 – serving the role of mentor for 25-year-old Jason Saltalamacchia. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are on record as saying they can already see a lot of Varitek in Salty.
“I can’t say it’s teaching,” Varitek said. “Salty is going to be Salty and hopefully, that’s not what he’s living with is to live with that or not live with that. I believe Salty is his own person and he’s going to be his player. He’s extremely talented. I don’t know if I had those abilities he has when I was that young and broke in and done those things. Yeah, we’re big catchers, switch-hit and strong-armed throwers and love to play the game. His work ethic and the things he’s displayed, it’s been an easy bond right away.”
Varitek spent Sunday catching the bullpen side of 44-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a role he hasn’t fully served since his first year in 1998. Varitek said he will look forward to that challenge again in 2011.
“My first major league start was with Wake,” Varitek said. “I don’t know if you can get any more nervous than I was there. After Dougie [Doug Mirabelli] got here, we learned a lot. [Catching coach Gary] Tuck’s done a great job of implementing different things like getting out the machines and doing those things getting ready for that.”
Saying he feels better than he has in years and can now go down stairs straight, Varitek said Sunday he hopes to play well in 2011 and well beyond. What was the first sign he was ready to head into 2011?
“Go down stairs straight, took me a long time to do that,” said Varitek, who’s played just 148 games in the last two seasons after 131 apiece the previous two. “It seems like a lighter load, lighter things I had to do in a year and a half, so it allowed me to get after it a little sooner.”
“I actually thought he took to it about as well as you could,” manager Terry Francona said on Sunday. “He was on pace, offensively, to have his best season in a long time. He was as productive as he could be. The broken bone kind of derailed that season. He was terrific. I know it’s hard to imagine, it looks like he’s in better shape than he was. I don’t know how he does it but he continues to do it every year. He works so hard. He’s in great shape. I think he’s going to excel in that role.”
Early on in the 21-minute session with reporters, the Red Sox starting catcher from 1999 to the 2009 trade deadline was asked if he sees himself playing into his mid-40s. Varitek was one part philosopher and one part career counselor in his answer.
“I think once you’re done playing, you’re done playing, you’re done. There’s no making a comeback if you stop playing this game at a point. My body holds up and I’m able to do the things that I feel I can still do, then I’ll play as long as I can. If I start comprising my livelihood for my kids and stuff later in life, then I’ve got to start questioning things or if I’m not putting myself in a competitive spot to help a team win, then I’ve got to start questioning things again.
“Is that what I envision? Yes, that is what I envision,” Varitek, adding that it’s conditional on his overall healthy and family considerations.
Varitek said he has made it through the first two days of camp with quick recovery, telling him that his body is fresh and ready to get ready for the season. Varitek said he is looking forward to working with starting catcher Jarrod Salatamacchia before adding that he didn’t know after the 2010 season finale if he’d be back this spring.
“It was very uncertain,” Varitek recalled. “My kids were upset for a good two hours after the game. It wasn’t just me that grew up here. It presented me with an emotional time. At that point, it was I did things well enough and did better in enough areas. Hopefully, it was going to be and it turned out to be. When I could walk down stairs straight, I knew I was ready.
“My body is going to dictate a lot and your performance also dictates a lot, how well your able to do things. It’s allowed me my body to catch up the past year and a half. I’m kind of excited. Not kind of, I am.”
Varitek, who missed two months last season with a broken bone in his right foot from a Carl Crawford foul on June 30, hit .232 in 39 games in 2010, with seven homers and 16 RBIs in a limited role behind Victor Martinez.
“Accept it or embrace it, I think there’s two different things because things can change in a hurry. You cannot not be prepared. Just like Vic [injuring] his thumb last year. You have to be ready right now, right in the middle of that game. Accepting it is different from embracing it. I think embracing whatever role you have for the betterment of this team [is needed] and trying to do what we want to do is win another championship.”
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