No Longer a Star, Jason Varitek Still Belongs on Red Sox

No Longer a Star, Jason Varitek Still Belongs on Red Sox For the first time in over a decade, Jason Varitek will head into spring training knowing full well that he's a backup catcher, nothing more. And here in Boston, we're just fine with that.

Varitek is getting on in years, no doubt about it. Early next season, he'll turn 38 — the oldest position player on the roster, and one whose skills have unfortunately deteriorated with age. Tek hit .209 last season, and his impact has softened defensively as well. Aside from the occasional power surge at the plate, he's lost the ability to fire up these Red Sox with his abilities on the field.

Fair-weather fans may boo when Varitek goes down swinging, or groan when his half-hearted throw to second is late on a stolen-base attempt. But to those who truly appreciate the history and tradition of the Red Sox, there's still plenty of room in the Fenway Park dugout for the team's captain and clubhouse leader.

Backup catcher is not a marquee position — no one needs a star to keep the bench warm, any able-bodied backstop will do. The Red Sox have made do in the past with George Kottaras, Josh Bard, Doug Mirabelli and Kevin Cash. There's no reason Varitek can't hold down that post now, and for that matter, there's no reason he can't stick around for years to come. The Red Sox have no reason to care one way or the other about the production they get from their backup — what matters more is keeping their captain around as long as he wants to stay.

How long will that be? No one has a clear idea. Not even Varitek himself.

"I don't really know," the catcher told last Friday. "As far as when retirement is, I don't really think about that. I'm thinking about preparing and physically and mentally getting ready for a season. Healing up, getting healthy and getting strong and getting ready for the next one.

"As far as when that happens, [if] you asked me the first half of last season, [I thought I'd] have a long time left. Then, some things didn't go so well after. I have to gauge and adjust to a different role and see what I can do before I can really make that decision. My body is healthy, and I'm able to compete at a level where I can contribute. I don't know how long I'll play."

At the moment, Varitek is banged up. He has acknowledged that health-wise, he's far from 100 percent. He's got a broken toe, a torn labrum in his shoulder and a bulging disk in his neck. He's seen better days, but he's working to get himself ready for baseball in 2010, and you have to admire his perseverance.

This will be a pivotal season for Varitek. If he comes back healthy and ready to go, he has a chance to prove to the Red Sox that he's far from finished in the major leagues. If he has a productive 2010 off the bench for the Sox, he will earn himself some job security for as long as he wants it.

Varitek has played 1,439 career games for the Red Sox. He's spent 11,316 innings behind the plate. He's a Gold Glover, a three-time All-Star and a beloved longtime member of a proud franchise. He's the only captain that a generation of Red Sox fans has ever known.

If Varitek wants to stick around a while longer, he's earned the right to do so. He's been a part of this franchise for far too long not to have that right. He's given them 12 strong seasons, and he just might have a few more left in him.

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