SPRINGFIELD — Although baseball is the only major sport without a clock, the reality is that time waits for no one.
When great Red Sox players of the past get together, the camaraderie is still strong — frozen in the glory years — but the bodies have changed. They are coping with an opponent that is undefeated: Father Time.
Is there any way to beat time?
“I wish someone would invent it,” says Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, gently negotiating a back staircase at the MGM Casino during a recent Red Sox Winter Weekend event.
“My right knee is bone on bone, so I’ve got to have a knee replacement. That’s probably the hardest thing, getting that lubed up in the morning.”
But even at 61 years old, his mind remains young and willing. In his 18-year major league career, Boggs rarely struck out, and he used to flick his wrists and smack the ball off The Wall.
Could he still hit?
“Probably,” says Boggs, who batted a record .369 lifetime at Fenway Park, 8 points higher than Ted Williams.
“.280? I wouldn’t waste my time hitting .280.’’
His advice to fans succumbing to age is simple.
“Get off the couch,” he says.
Jason Varitek, 47, crouched behind the plate for 1,488 games, the most in Red Sox history.
“Now the hardest part is getting out of bed,’’ he says.
In 2004, the captain leapt into the arms of closer Keith Foulke after the Sox beat the Cardinals to win the World Series, ending an 86-year championship drought.
Tek played seven more years, but Foulke’s career was cut short in 2008 by knee and elbow injuries. Foulke, 47, attempted a comeback with the Atlantic League’s Newark Bears in 2009. He knows that Father Time is his most formidable opponent.
“You can’t beat it,” says Foulke. “It’s the aches and pains that set in every day. You get up and the feet hurt and the knees hurt. You can’t stop it, so you just have to deal with it.”
The setup man on that 2004 championship team, Alan Embree, agrees.
“I think it’s that first step in the morning,” says Embree, 50. “You’ve got to get oiled up again. You’ve got to get those joints moving. My advice is yoga and keep moving.’’
Mike Timlin, 53, who was a part of two Red Sox championships (2004, 2007), says the secret is to “just keep exercising. Then I ice.”
Koji Uehara, 44, who was on the mound when the Sox won the 2013 championship, says you can’t beat time.
Uehara started his career in 1999 with the Yomiuri Giants and ended it with them in 2019. He did not make his major league debut until he was 34 years old and he pitched in the big leagues until he was 42. He says he relied on his brain more as his physical talents diminished. He hung on as long as he could, with a not-so-fast deceptive fastball.
“I know that I can’t play anymore,” he says. “But experience that you bring to the table overcomes it.”
Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, 48, agrees that smarts can make up for declining skills.
“It’s really natural that the body just slows down,” he says.
Sometimes the mind slows down too, he says, but not for him.
“Thank you, God, not yet,’’ he says.
Martinez, who ended his career with the Phillies in 2009, says there wasn’t one moment when he knew time had caught up to him.
“No, no after I sat at home with my family for a year,” he says. “I realized that I enjoyed that more than I enjoyed baseball.”
The three-time Cy Young Award winner also believes that Tom Brady can defy time.
“You know what? He might be the one exception,” says Martinez. “He is a guy that’s done a lot of stuff that no one expected to see done. So if someone is going to break a record or do something really special with time, it’s got to be someone like him. He’s really special.”
Nearby, Martinez’s soulmate David Ortiz, 44, laughs heartily when told that the late, great Red Auerbach used to say the worst part about getting old was putting on his socks in the morning.
“I’m not there yet,” says Big Papi.
He says his health is good, despite the near-fatal shooting in the Dominican Republic last June.
“I’m doing OK with everything,” says Ortiz. “Right now I’m not having a hard time with anything. My pain that I used to have in my feet is gone. I’m feeling better now.”
He says athletes should cherish their careers and not worry about beating time.
“I think the big thing is you have to enjoy it while you are in it,” he says, “so you don’t feel miserable when it goes by. You’ve got to do everything that you feel you need to do.”
Ortiz is asked if there were any lessons learned from the shooting.
“Hey, you know what? You’re not expecting things like that to happen,” he says. “I’m just happy to be here.
“I’m still the same. I still do my thing the way I normally do. I don’t get too crazy about things.
“It’s all gravy.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.