Commentary

Varitek keeps game in perspective

Father's illness adds another layer to Sox captain's year of transition

Updated: April 11, 2010, 1:39 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are the public faces, and the private sorrows.

Before his first start the other day, John Lackey had a sensitive personal issue, one that led manager Terry Francona to tell him that if he needed to stay home instead of pitch, the club would understand.

Lackey elected to pitch.

Jason Varitek was in spring training when he learned that his father, Joe, was very ill, and the catcher left the club for a week to be at his father's side with his mother, Donna, and his brothers.

He returned to camp, and did his work, but his father's condition remained a constant worry. Joe Varitek is 68. "Thirty years older than me," said his son, who turns 38 on Sunday.

So while this baseball business has not been easy, adjusting to the role of backup catcher after having been the Sox anchor behind home plate for the past 11 years, Varitek's heart is occupied with greater concerns. You can lose your job and still soldier on in another role. But losing your dad? Where's the safety net for that?

[+] EnlargeJason Varitek
John Rieger/US PresswireFacing a new role on the bench as well as his father's illness, Jason Varitek's two home runs were extra sweet on Saturday.

Which is why it gave Varitek no small comfort to be able to say Saturday night, after a game in which he not only played for the first time in 2010 but hit two home runs, that Joe Varitek is improving.

"My dad is doing a little bit better," said Varitek, who asked to keep the particulars of his father's condition private out of consideration to his mother. "He's on the road to recovery right now. Exactly where he's at, I don't know, but he's already started the rehab process."

His dad is well enough, Jason Varitek said, that back in a Florida hospital room, there should be smiles when Donna Varitek informs him that his son hit two home runs, including one off Zack Greinke, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2009.

Varitek and Jeremy Hermida, who preceded him, hit home runs on consecutive hanging breaking balls from Greinke to lead off the fifth inning, giving the Sox and Josh Beckett a 2-1 lead. The Sox knocked out Greinke with two more runs in the seventh, the big hit an RBI double by Jacoby Ellsbury, one of his three hits. And Varitek homered again, hitting reliever Luis Mendoza's changeup into the seats in right, to lead off the ninth.

"That's impressive," said Beckett, who went seven innings for his first win in 2010. "He's got that 'C' on his chest for a reason. He's definitely one of our emotional leaders. To see him do well is important to all of us."

The Sox would hit five home runs in all, Kevin Youkilis (his first) and Dustin Pedroia (his second) also taking the Royals' bullpen deep.

Varitek had hit just one home run after July 11 last season, a period in which he hit just .153 (21-for-137) and lost his job to Victor Martinez after Martinez was acquired in a trading-deadline deal with the Indians. Then, over the winter, the Sox elected not to exercise the $5 million option they held on Varitek's contract; he returned by exercising a player option for a lesser amount, $3 million.

But from the first day of camp, Varitek has accepted his demotion stoically, much like Mike Lowell, saying that he was there to help in whatever way he could. Hitting two home runs in a game was not really expected to be part of the program, especially after not playing in the team's first four games.

"I can't say I felt great, locked in," Varitek said. "[The ball] didn't look like a grapefruit. It looked more like a golf ball."

Varitek has always maintained that his offense has never been his priority, and Saturday night was no different.

"My focus is obviously with Josh, and what has to go on there, especially in this role," he said. "It's nice to contribute, absolutely. It's nice to get ourselves on the winning track again, most importantly."

Important? Jason Varitek is a father himself, daddy to three little girls.

"You know you can't replace the love and stuff you have toward your children," he said. "When you're presented that with your own father, that's a part of life that's not fun to grasp."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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