Monday, March 5, 2012

End of an Era

I feel like I should wear black at least all this week to publicly mourn the retirement of my hero, Boston Red Sox captain Jason Varitek. Tek retired with grace and dignity on his own terms March 1st, though everyone has high hopes there will still be some place for him within the BoSox organization. He would make one hell of a manager, I'll tell you that much.

I've never been so attached to a professional athlete before, so I've never had to experience watching my favorite team without my hero at the helm. This year when I watch the Sox, some of the magic will be gone for me. Tek was a consummate professional both on and off the field, and is touted as one of the best prepared and hardest working catcher in the game. There's a reason his teammates bestowed that letter C he wore over his heart for so many seasons.

My favorite memory of Tek was a couple years ago when he was rehabbing a foot fracture. My hubby took me down to Seattle to watch the Sox play the Mariners at Safeco field, and partway through the game Tek came out of the dugout and headed toward the outfield where the bullpen is. Hubby nudged me and we both walked around the stadium to stand by the bullpen fence to watch him warm up a pitcher. He was maybe twenty feet away from me, in full and glorious living color, all six foot two of his delicious frame crouched behind the plate. My heart was pounding like crazy, and I'll admit I was completely eating him up with my eyes (it's okay--my hubby totally understood, lol).

After a few minutes of catching Tek stood up to stretch his legs and tipped his mask back on his head. It was just me, hubby and some homeless-looking guy standing at the fence watching. Tek looked over at me, and I swear on my childrens' lives, he smiled a little and winked at me. (Either that or he had something in his eye at the exact moment he turned his head to look at me. I'm going with the wink theory, thanks.)

I almost died. My face went all kinds of red and though hubby was elbowing me in the ribs saying, "Say something, say something!", I just couldn't. I think I smiled and maybe raised my hand in a wave, but I'm not sure. I just know that my face was pretty damn hot at that moment.

That's as close as I ever got to meeting or speaking with my hero, but it was incredible and something I'll never forget.

Last year in September a friend of mine flew out to Toronto to watch them play the Sox. Since he's friends with a few of the Blue Jays, he and his son were welcomed onto the field. Who should they come across but the captain of the BoSox himself, Jason Varitek, just after batting practice. My friend knew what a rabid fan I am of Tek's, so he went over and asked him to sign a baseball for me. Which he did. Okay, he totally spelled my name wrong, but I think it's because my friend doesn't know how to spell my name right. That ball is one of my most treasured possessions, and it marks one of the last games Tek had in the majors.
I'll always love the BoSox, but there's a hollow sensation in my gut now. Knowing he'll never be behind the plate again is hard to take. I'll always have the memory of that wink, though, and the ball signed just for me.