Friday, May 23, 2008

Where are they now - Jason Varitek

Last week, Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox. It was a feel good story. The guy battles back from cancer, clinches the World Series for the Red Sox last year, and now pitches a no-no. The media got it right by covering that story. In the sea of sports cheating, scandals and embarrassment, it was a ray of sunshine.

There was another smaller, yet important story about that game. It was covered a little by the local Boston media, but really didn't become part of the national story. What is it? It is the fact that Jason Varitek caught the game. That was significant because it was the 4th no-hitter Jason has caught in his career. That's more than anyone in major league history. There were 13 other catches with 3, but Varitek now stands alone.

2001...... Hideo Nomo
2002...... Derek Lowe
2007...... Clay Buchholz
2008...... Jon Lester

By the way, he had a couple of close calls as well:

2000..... Pedro Martinez lost a no-no in the 9th inning with Varitek
2007..... Curt Schilling shakes off Varitek with 2 outs in the 9th... and gives up a single.
2006..... Devern Hansack pitched a rain-shortened 5-inning no-hitter, but only 9-inning complete games are recognized by MLB as true no-hitters.

John Farrell, the Red Sox pitching coach says it's no coincidence:

“He’s got a photographic memory and just a true feel for what the hitter is doing in the batter’s box in a given at-bat,” he said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “Second, third, fourth time through the lineup, he’s well aware of the sequences that he’s called in the previous at-bats. If adjustments are needed with pitch selection, he has the recall to make that on the fly.”

His current mates and former mates think the world of him:

“To have that kind of desire, that kind of preparation, in really making the most of a pitcher — it’s invaluable,” Farrell said.

Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon, a teammate of Varitek’s on Boston’s 2004 championship team, said, “I always thought Varitek was amazing — the way he calls a game, the way he prepares, the way he carries around the luggage.”

His opponents also think the world of him:

"You never want to see a no-hitter go against you like that, but, unfortunately, that situation happened," KC's Jose Guillen said. "I give a lot of credit to the pitcher, but most of the credit I give to Jason Varitek."

"He one of the smartest guys, the smartest catcher," Guillen said. "He's the one that got that pitching staff going that way about [its] business. "

"You want to guess and you're looking for a pitch, it's like Jason is reading your mind. And the pitchers listen to him about the pitch he wants in a certain situation. You think, 'OK, I'm going to take a pitch,' and here you go, he comes with a strike there; and you want to swing, he comes with a breaking pitch."

"He's a big value to this team, and they should be proud of what they have there," Guillen said. "He's a special guy. That's a lot of work to do to be a catcher. It's not just catching the ball and throwing it back to the pitcher.

By the way, in case you didn't know, Varitek is beloved his Boston fans as well. He's the team captain, the leader in the clubhouse and fans adore him. How can you hate a guy that sits in his driveway on Halloween night giving out snickers bars and signing autographs for all the neighborhood kids.

In case you haven't gotten the point yet, read this GREAT article by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. For a Georgia Tech fan, it's candy for the ears. When you have guys like Varitek, Garciaparra, Payton, Teixeira, Kevin Brown (maybe) and Matt Wieters going through your program, you have something to be proud of. Varitek is right at the top of the list.