Fifteen years, more than 100 games per year, over 100 pitches a game and countless work on the side. Do the math and you have an idea as to how many times Jason Varitek has put strain on his knees squatting behind home plate.
Even on days when he is the backup, Varitek still warms up some pitchers in the bullpen, works with others on their side sessions and has various other drills that have him lifting and lowering his big frame on those overworked knees. Those days, just like the others when he catches all nine, prompt a full ice-wrap on both knees after the game.
It’s a constant grind to keep the knees in shape, not only to put together a stellar career like Varitek’s, but simply to be able to get up each day without incredible pain. Simply put, what Varitek does is not natural.
“It’s like throwing a baseball overhand,” Varitek said. “Through the course of time you’re not anatomically made to do that so you shouldn’t probably be squatting all the time.”
Varitek endured surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee in 2006 and has dealt with a variety of smaller issues that only were mentioned to the training staff. “I’ve had enough to deal with,” he said.
Still, it’s all the work Varitek has done before, during and after games that has kept his knees in pretty solid shape over the years, considering the perils of the position.
“You’ve got to do exercises. You’ve got to do stuff, it’s not just ice,” he said. “We stretch. We do our work in the weight room. Knee-specific exercises.”
At some point, Varitek will move on from his playing days. He is also mindful of having his knees in good shape for those years as well. When that time comes, he will engage in exercises and routines more familiar with the common man.
“Flexibility and lower extremity strengthening exercises are imperative to maintain long-term knee function,” said Dr. Arun Ramappa, Chief of Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Somebody that has put constant strain on their knees over time can benefit from closed-chain hip and thigh exercises such as leg press, squat, and hip abductor exercises. This should be coupled with stretching your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and iliotibial band.”
Until his salad days are over, Varitek has to keep his knees not only from getting the usual soreness, but primed to pounce out of a crouch and nail a would-be base stealer, an action that requires knees to uncoil with incredible force. It’s also the kind of action that can lead to varying degrees of pain.
“It goes along with fatigue,” he said of the pain. “Sometimes there’s pain every day, until you get loose again, and then sometimes there’s pain when you get loose that day.”
What Varitek does is not natural, but hard work and attention to the matter has allowed him to endure the everyday issues for a very long time. Just do the math.