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Varitek Finds Baseball Fever Hard To Shake

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By NOAH TRISTER,  AP Baseball Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) _ Jason Varitek announced his retirement about a year ago– then found the baseball bug is a pretty hard one to shake.

“I became a fan,” the former Boston catcher said Wednesday. “I was as excited for opening day as I was for a player. I was actually playing golf, and I got it on my phone and I’m watching the game.”

Varitek is back in camp with the Red Sox after being named a special assistant to the general manager in September. Whether he’s working with catchers or taking in as much information as possible about the inner workings of an organization, the former Boston captain seems at peace with his decision to walk away during spring training last year.

“I just started recently, actually doing some working out and exercising, and I couldn’t really squat down. I could squat down a little better now than I could 10 days ago,” Varitek said. “You miss it. You miss the competition, you miss the camaraderie with the guys in the locker room, and competing. But I understand that I passed my mark.”

Varitek spent his whole big league career with the Red Sox, winning over the Boston fans with an unyielding work ethic. He caught four no-hitters, made three All-Star teams and won two World Series titles.

He was 39 when he retired, leaving a legacy that made him an ideal candidate to come to camp and work with younger players.

“The guy’s talented, he’s a good athlete. He studies hard, he’s prepared,” said catcher David Ross, who played for the Red Sox briefly in 2008 and is on the team again this year. “I’d say he’s one of the most prepared guys I’ve ever been around. It was a lot of fun being his teammate.”

When Varitek was hired as a special assistant, general manager Ben Cherington said he’d be involved with all sorts of work, including major league personnel decisions, evaluations, and mentorship and instruction of young players.

At this point, Varitek sounds willing to be patient while sampling a wide range of tasks. He wasn’t too specific Wednesday about any possible next moves as he transitions to the next phase of his life.

“That’s the purpose of it, is to learn, and to learn once again, different avenues. … You know the baseball side, what it’s like on the field,” he said. “I’m enjoying these days of being on the field, because that’s what I’m most accustomed to, but that learning process _ there’s a lot of things to be involved with over the next six, eight months.”

With his golf game showing little to no improvement (”I still stink”) Varitek is enjoying the chance to provide hands-on guidance to current players at spring training. Pedro Martinez has also been around camp _ he’s a special assistant to Cherington, too.

“That’s the fun part,” Varitek said. “It’s the game. That’s the part that I love most. I don’t play, I’m not a player anymore, so if I can pass on things or help someone, or be a helpful hand, another sounding board, then that’s what I’ll be.”

After Varitek’s departure, the Red Sox struggled through a nightmarish 69-93 season. John Farrell takes over this season as Boston’s manager, and the Red Sox are hoping for a quick return to prominence with newcomers like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Joel Hanrahan.

Varitek said last season was tough to watch _ but his passion for the game and this team is still there.

“That’s all behind them. They’ve got new faces, new people, new manager, great coaching staff,” he said. “Can’t really do much about what has happened. They’ve got to push as a team and an organization _ push forward.”

___

 NOTES: RHP Clay Buchholz, who strained his right hamstring earlier this month, threw live batting practice. … The Red Sox play a doubleheader Thursday against Northeastern and Boston College.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. )

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