BOSTON -- A sense of normalcy returned to Opening Day at Fenway Park on Friday: Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield were both there, wearing their regular jersey tops, no less.
The two recently retired Red Sox staples shared ceremonial first-pitch honors at Fenway Park's first regular-season game before Boston beat Tampa Bay, 12-2. They emerged from the Green Monster, which was draped in a gigantic U.S. flag the team uses on special occasions, and both walked to the mound while waving to and soaking in the crowd.
"Very emotional for both of us standing behind the flag, reminiscing on our time together, trying to get the walk over with as fast as possible to get off the field," Wakefield said. "It's a special day, it really is. Spend this much time with this guy, and being able to share today throwing out the first pitch of the home opener was pretty special."
Wakefield, 45, retired in February, not long before Varitek decided to hang it up as well. For Varitek, who turned 40 two days ago, the adjustment to non-playing life has been gradual. He sat down to watch the Red Sox's first game of the season against the Tigers and watched every pitch. He almost felt like a fan, he said.
"I wanted to see from a different perspective," Varitek said. "Keeping me still wasn't the easiest thing to do, just enjoying it from a different view. I still have contact with some guys. You go through things. Partly for me, it's the role I had been in before, not playing every day. You still have those relationships, and those guys are all still here. Just watching them, rooting for them, supporting them."
Varitek said there isn't anyone whom he played with on the current Red Sox team that he hasn't talked to at least by text, and he's still working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, even from afar.
Varitek played parts of 15 seasons in the Majors -- 14 if you discount one at-bat in 1997 -- all with Boston. Wakefield played 17 years with the Red Sox and 19 overall. They were both around in much leaner times in Boston, when the "1918" chants were commonplace. That all changed during 2004's amazing World Series run.
Now, with at least a little bit of time away from the game and Fenway's centennial celebration under way, they were able to reflect some on the legacy left behind by them and the teams they played on, including the two championship clubs from 2004 and '07.
"[There's an awareness] of everybody that's built stuff here over time, passing it down, from [Carl Yastrzemski] to Jim Rice to Mo [Vaughn] to [John] Valentin to Wake to myself and on and on," Varitek said. "But that burden of not being able to get over the hump and win that championship, it was felt and it was felt by the players. And to take those steps and to continue to build and move forward and come closer and move forward and come closer was a big thing, big part to do with it. Finally broke through, and the whole energy from the fan base changed."
"People ask me all the time what was the best World Series win. I have to say 2004," Wakefield said. "One for many reasons is being part of the history leading up to 2004, the way it happened, coming back from three games to none against New York in the ALCS and getting into the World Series against St. Louis was a World Series in itself, for us, as players. And then to go and win it again in 2007 with a different group of guys was very special, too. We had a new core: [Dustin] Pedroia and [Jacoby] Ellsbury, [Jonathan Papelbon]. A whole different generation of players came in and we were able to win a World Series championship with those guys, too. Both of them were very special, but I think 2004 is the most special for me."
Varitek and Wakefield both said the time with their children was the most gratifying part of leaving the game.
"The greatest feedback, I think, I could get from my decision is my kids," Wakefield said. "I'm seeing such a drastic change from being around more with them. That was the most important thing to me is never regretting not being there for them, and now that I'm home full time with them, it's a special time. It's the right time."