Byline: Jimmy Golen
BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox want Jason Varitek back.
It might not be as a player, though.
Two days after signing free agent Kelly Shoppach - giving the Red Sox a full complement of three catchers who are expected to be on the major league squad - general manager Ben Cherington said the team is still talking to the captain and longtime backstop about remaining with the ballclub "in some way."
"We have incredible respect for 'Tek. I have incredible respect for 'Tek on a personal level," Cherington said yesterday on a conference call with reporters to discuss the team's latest moves. "We, as an organization and ownership, have incredible respect for him and for the contributions he's made.
"Our hope is that 'Tek will always be a part of the Red Sox in some way."
Cherington would not elaborate on private discussions with Varitek and his agent, Scott Boras, but said they are working to "figure out what's best for the Red Sox, and what's best for him." It has been long assumed that when Varitek is done playing he would join the Boston coaching staff.
But Boras indicated Varitek might not be ready to retire.
"I've had discussions with them about 'Tek, but it's been about playing," Boras said. "Any thoughts about coaching have not been addressed, to my knowledge."
In Providence yesterday, Red Sox owner John Henry said he had tried to contact Varitek to let him know the team appreciates his 15-year career.
"He should be a part of this organization for the rest of his life," Henry said. "No matter what he decides to do, he's always going to be welcome here. He's a huge part of the history of this organization, which is why he should be a part of the future of this organization."
Speaking at the Rhode Island State House to announce a new scholarship program sponsored by the Red Sox Foundation, Henry declined to elaborate on a possible nonplaying role for Varitek. "Until I have a chance to discuss it with him, I don't want to discuss it publicly," Henry said.
Varitek, who will be 40 by the home opener, joined a franchise that hadn't won a World Series in almost eight decades and became a pivotal part of two championship teams. To Red Sox fans, the turning point was July 24, 2004, when Varitek shoved his glove in Alex Rodriguez's face during a brawl with the Yankees at Fenway Park - a picture that is as popular in Boston TV rooms as Bobby Orr's game-winner in the 1970 Stanley Cup finals.
The Red Sox came back to win the game, 11-10...