When Jarrod Saltalamacchia was first traded to Boston from Texas on July 31, 2010, it was Varitek — then the Red Sox' catcher — who showed him the ropes. He lectured him on playing with confidence. He taught him to assemble detailed scouting reports. He instructed him on ways to improve his communication with the pitchers.
As news of Varitek's pending retirement spread across the clubhouse, Saltalamacchia could only credit the Red Sox captain for gracefully aiding his transition from underachieving prospect to starter.
"I didn't expect him to be so helpful and so 'Hey, man this is your team,'" he said. "It's like 'You're the captain, it's your team.' But that's just the kind of person he is. He stuck up for me a lot of times and I can't thank him enough for jump-starting my career again."
Varitek also imparted his influence on pitchers. When pitcher Clay Buchholz was called up to the Red Sox in 2007, the right-hander was initially uneasy speaking to the team's iconic catcher.
He almost paid for that hesitation as a rookie. Before tossing a no-hitter against the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007, Buchholz said he ignored Varitek's pitch calling earlier that night — a mistake that nearly shattered his accomplishment.
"There were a couple times, early in the game I shook off him a couple times and had a couple missiles hit," Buchholz said. "They were caught. But after that it was just I'm going to throw what he puts down.
"The game started speeding up on me a couple times and I remember him calling timeout, running out there, telling me to take a couple deep breaths, throw a pitch down and away and get a ground ball and get out of the inning."
Game management was Varitek's specialty. During his 15 years with the Red Sox, Varitek became the only backstop to catch four no-hitters, guiding Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Jon Lester and Buchholz throughout their feats.
It was that wisdom that allowed pitcher Josh Beckett to trust Varitek. As a result of their bond, the right-hander ultimately tapped Varitek as his personal catcher, a custom he'll need to change this season.
"I've never had a catcher before that who I felt like cared more about what you needed to be successful," Beckett said of Varitek. "He's going to be missed a lot in the clubhouse and on the field."
For David Ortiz, Varitek's retirement closes another chapter from the 2004 World Series team. Now the elder statesmen of the storied team, Ortiz hopes the Red Sox keep the 39-year-old catcher in the fold.
"Tek was somebody that I think this organization is going to need forever," Ortiz said. "Especially now that he's going to retire. I think he's the kind of person this organization needs to keep very close. This is a guy who does nothing but add good things and like I [said], it was an honor for me to be his teammate."
Ortiz also recognized Varitek's toughness, specifically against New York. When Alex Rodriguez shouted at Bronson Arroyo during a regular season game in 2004, Varitek responded by shoving his mitt in Rodriguez’s face in defense of Arroyo.
As the years went on, Varitek aged on the field. After hitting just .221 and throwing out 14 percent of base runners in 2011, his production dipped even as he split at-bats with Saltalamacchia. Even so, he still slugged 11 home runs last season.
"He's an animal," Buchholz said. "You see every spring training what he looks like, how his body, he's just a specimen. I was expecting Tek to play until he was 60."
Until Monday's announcement, players still held hope that Varitek would make a surprise entrance at spring training. Instead, the Red Sox captain will be moving onto the next chapter of his life.
"I think he's definitely going to miss [playing]," Saltalamacchia said. 'I still think he had another year or two left, but he wanted to play here.
"He's a loyal guy."
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