Jason Varitek bids emotional goodbye to Red Sox

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“That meant a lot,” his father, Joe, said. “He said, `I’m a Red Sox. And once a Sox, always a Sox. That’s big with him.”

The decision didn’t come quickly. He labored over it for months while agent Scott Boras prodded him to come to a conclusion.

“I still trained and tried to get myself ready,” Varitek said. “I love being able to play. I love the competition on the field, the chess game behind the plate. It’s not easy.”

Boras hinted that there may have been other options for him, both this winter and in previous seasons. But winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007 helped Varitek know for sure that he didn’t want to go anywhere else.

“When you lead a pitching staff and you’ve set a tone for the organization and you watch players, he just really identified with this team,” Boras said. “And that’s what his peers knew him as, a Boston Red Sox. So it was something that was more than a uniform or a job or a place.”

Perhaps fittingly, Varitek is leaving the game at the same time as longtime Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. The two became fixtures behind the plate in the late 1990s, on opposite sides of the most heated rivalry in baseball, and spent the next decade and a half as the steadying forces behind their star-studded teams.

“I’ll tell you what, Jason was unbelievable,” said David Wells, who pitched for both Boston and New York. “He was a guy who came prepared every day. It’s just a shame that I didn’t have him catch me longer because he’s almost right there with Jorge. Jorge is my guy, and will always be there, but just way the Jorge prepared, he did his homework and Jason was the same way.”

Varitek said Posada reached out to him this week after the news broke of his decision.

“You see a lot of games and you butt heads quite a bit,” Varitek said. “His job is to make sure we get out, my job is to make sure they get out and our job is to make sure each other gets out. But you can respect what you have to do behind the plate and the little things.”

It’s hard to imagine Varitek without that No. 33 jersey with the “C” on the left shoulder draped over his chiseled frame. Hard to picture the Red Sox clubhouse without Varitek sitting at a chair in front of his locker with enormous ice bags on his shoulders, knees and elbow.

As he stood at the podium in front of home plate at JetBlue Park, Boston’s shiny new spring training home with the replica Green Monster in left field, Varitek was asked how difficult it will be for him to walk into a ballpark for the first time as a non-player.

“I just did,” he said.

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AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this story.

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