Jason Varitek has come up with clutch hits and incredible defensive plays, he's called a record four no-hitters and he has maintained order in a clubhouse with personalities like Manny Ramirez and Carl Everett. However, if Varitek wants to make the most of his next — and potentially, his final — season of Boston baseball, then the captain is going to have learn how to catch the knuckleball.
Many agree that Tek's best days are behind him and with the acquisition of Victor Martinez last season and the Red Sox extending V-Mart this offseason, it's obvious that — for the first time in 11 years — Varitek won't be heading into spring training as the team's No. 1 backstop.
As much as he may be able to help off the bench and behind the scenes next season, Tek can help this club out most by learning how to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler.
By becoming Wake's permanent battery-mate, Varitek will not only create a pitching-catching battery that's 81 combined years of age, he'll get his hacks in every fifth game and more importantly, he'll be able to give Martinez's knees a much-needed rest. Although V-Mart will likely get plenty of time at first base this season, if he's able to keep the catcher's gear in the clubhouse at least twice a week, it could pay dividends for the Red Sox come October.
As the top dog behind the dish, Varitek has rarely been forced to deal with Wakefield's flutterer. And even when called upon, Tek could barely handle Wakefield's dancer. In fact, he once admitted that "catching the knuckleball — it's like trying to catch a fly with a chopstick."
So you're saying there's a chance, Jason-san?
But as easy as athletes make it look these days, Varitek can't just run out to purchase a copy of Karate Kid and become a bona fide knuckleball catcher. However, with Doug Mirabelli, one of his best friends and one of the game's most notable knuckleball catchers just a phone call away, Varitek has a chance to carve out a niche with Boston in 2010.
If this old dog can learn a new trick, he won't just be earning at least one routine start per week. He'll be giving the team's most feared hitter a consistent and imperative break. Should the captain pull this off, he'll be remembered not for his offensive woes, but as the captain who would do anything for the benefit of the squad. That's the Varitek this town fell in love with, and it's the same one this town is yearning to eventually say goodbye to.
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