FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was an odd and incongruent sight, kind of like Dennis Rodman in a priest’s habit.
In the good ol’ days, when Jason Varitek was a catcher of considerable grit, he’d conduct postgame interviews with an ice pack on virtually every part of his body -- knees, groin, hamstrings, neck.
But when the Red Sox were finished with their Wednesday workout, Varitek strolled to the interview area looking like he had just left the 18th green: white polo shirt with thin, multi-colored stripes, gray shorts and gray Nikes.
Varitek, who retired in 2011 and took 2012 off to spend time with his family, is back in camp as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. It’s a role that is going to require considerable adjustment.
“You miss it,” the 40-year-old Varitek said of his 15 seasons in Boston, when he captained the Red Sox and helped them to two World Series titles. “You miss the competition, the camaraderie with the guys in the locker room. But I understand I passed my mark.
“I like the other side (playing) a little better. I mean, playing, you can’t replace it. But it’s good. I’m learning a lot.”
He used the word learning about a dozen times in his 13-minute, 43-second session with the media. The Red Sox have him doing a little bit of everything in his role as special assistant. Right now, he’s working with the catchers until Saturday, when he leaves camp. But he also expects to work with the minor leaguers starting March 17. And he suspects he’ll even be involved in scouting amateur players before the June draft.
“I’m learning a lot of different areas, different avenues,” he said. “Just learning. I’m going to be involved in a lot of different areas -- and have been since September. Part of building that foundation, you learn what the coaches are doing, what baseball ops are doing, what the minor-league coordinators are doing. In my position, it’s a lot of learning and understanding what everybody’s doing.”
But clearly, what he enjoys the most -- and what the Red Sox probably value the most -- is his on-field work with the catchers. He is the gold standard. It goes far beyond his three All-Star Game appearances, his Gold Glove, his Silver Slugger Award and the two rings on his fingers.
He has something significant to offer to anybody who wants to be behind the plate. Teaching the lessons he has learned is what truly gives his job meaning.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “That’s the game. That’s the part I love the most. I don’t play. I’m not a player anymore. So if I can pass on things or help someone or be another sounding board, then that’s what I’ll be.”
But like Pedro Martinez, who also is a special assistant to the GM and is in camp at the same time, he wants to be a mentor off the field and help players deal with the challenges of going through the system or the pressures of playing in Boston.
Martinez has said he wants to be like Luis Tiant or Johnny Pesky, serving not just as an instructor or mentor, but total ambassador. Will that be Varitek?
“I’d hope so,” he said. “That was the purpose of a lot of what’s going on -- in my case, having the luxury to have been able to retire in the (Red Sox) uniform. It’s hugely important to know every year that Luis Tiant is around.
“Luis is such a huge resource. I remember when we had Derek (Lowe) and he was going through a tough spot. Luis was watching and has a keen eye, and said some things: ‘Let’s just focus and let’s get him down more than anything.’ And that locked Derek in, because Luis was similar in movement and deception. I love it to have these guys. We need more of them.”
Varitek isn’t sure where he’s going in the future. Coach? Front office? Scout? Don’t try to pin him down.
He’s taking it one day at a time. He’s spending quality time with his family. And then there’s that confounding, complex game of golf.
“I still stink,” he said. But, he added, “I can putt.”