Johnny Pesky was in the house. Dwight Evans and Jim Rice, too. Yet it seemed entirely appropriate to have Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield emerge from behind the giant American flag draped over the Green Monster on Friday and work their way toward the Fenway Park mound, a place where they’ve had more than a few orchestrated meetings.
No signs or strategy to go over this time, though. Just the opportunity to appear once more before a home opening crowd that knows and appreciates the significance the pair played over the years, helping the Sox win World Series in 2004 and 2007.
Both announced their retirements within weeks of each other at spring training, ending Red Sox playing careers that dated to 1995 (Wakefield) and 1997 (Varitek). But they were the featured pregame performers Friday, throwing ceremonial first pitches: Wakefield to Evans, Varitek to Rice.
Any thought for old time’s sake of having Wakefield throw to Varitek, who often had difficulty handling Wakefield’s knuckleball?
“Yes, but I let them determine what they wanted us to do, and they wanted both of us throwing the ball,’’ Varitek said.
The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on either.
“It was very emotional for both of us standing behind the flag, reminiscing of our time together, trying to get the walk over as fast as possible so we can get off the field,’’ Wakefield said. “It’s a special day, it really is. Spending so much time with this guy, being able to share today, throwing out the first pitch of the home opener, it’s pretty special.’’
‘Standing behind the flag and listening to the guys introduce us, it was pretty emotional . . .’
Said Varitek, whose white jersey featured his customary captain’s “C’’: “It’s surreal. You’re honored to be here, but it’s a blur. All I remember is the back of the flag . . . and the next thing I know we’re on the mound. We really appreciate them asking us to do this.’’
Wakefield and Varitek wanted to keep playing for the Red Sox, but weren’t in the team’s plans anymore, leaving them the option of playing elsewhere. Two men whose legacy will live on in Boston for what they did on the field decided it was time to walk away from it, entering into a new phase that isn’t exactly stress free: They’re Red Sox fans now, not players.
“I went through some adjustment,’’ Varitek said. “I sat down - and keeping me still is hard to do - but I literally sat down and didn’t move, and watched pitch by pitch the first game. I’m just enjoying it from a different view. Watching them, rooting for them, supporting them, knowing that good things will come together for this team . . . I find myself more of a fan than a player.’’
Added Wakefield: “You feel the pain for the guys. You watch them, you root for them. Even as a retired player, when you’re watching the game you’re still in it, I feel like I’m still in it, still sitting on the bench rooting for these guys. It’s been a little emotional not being there and wanting to support them, but also feeling the pain of what they’ve been going through.’’
Both have expressed interest in remaining in the game: Wakefield would like to mentor pitchers interested in learning the knuckleball - assuming there are any - while Varitek and the Red Sox have discussed an undetermined position for him.
All that is down the road. Friday was about looking back, remembering, honoring. For those in the stands, it was easy to do, since Wakefield (200 victories, 186 with the Sox) and Varitek (four no-hitters caught) left lasting memories while playing in Boston. For the players, though, reflecting hasn’t been easy, not this soon after leaving the game.
“Now that we’re both retired, and being asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch here at Opening Day, and being part of the 100-year anniversary next week, it kind of hits you like wow, all that stuff really happened,’’ Wakefield said. “Standing behind the flag and listening to the guys introduce us, it was pretty emotional, but yet very fulfilling of a career that we were very blessed to have in this uniform.’’
Said Varitek: “As a player, it’s hard to really reflect. I spent the time trying to get myself ready, so to turn back and all of a sudden stop and look at your whole career, I don’t think I’ve had time to do that. We’re so fortunate for what we’ve been able to do.’’