BOSTON -- Jason Varitek gave the Red Sox and their fans 15 years of memories and high-caliber play from behind the plate. On Saturday, the organization formally thanked the former team captain with "Thanks, Tek" night at Fenway Park.
Life after baseball hasn't fully sunk in for Varitek. His mind raced and his emotions swelled during a pregame ceremony before Saturday's 7-3 loss against the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox thanked Varitek for his years of service, hard work and dedication. But the catcher simply wanted to thank the fans for enhancing his time in Boston.
"I spent a lot of my time out there trying to absorb, but I don't think I fully can," Varitek said. "I, in turn, want to say, 'Thank you,' and how do you say, 'Thank you' for 15 years? ... To say, 'Thank you' for that it's been bothering me for quite a while. I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of emotions going into today."
The Red Sox pulled out all the stops to honor the club's all-time leader in games caught (1,488). Banners covering the on-deck circles featured his nickname, "Tek," and his No. 33. With his family sitting with him behind home plate, video montages and photo slideshows highlighted Varitek's illustrious career.
"It was surreal. For me to really absorb what just happened, I think I'm going to have to watch it," he said.
The love didn't stop there.
Varitek threw out the first pitch, a knuckleball to former teammate Tim Wakefield, who also hung up his spikes for good after last season.
David Ortiz presented his longtime teammate with a set of chairs from the historic ballpark. Pitchers Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz gave their former batterymate the plate used on Sept. 21, 2011 -- Varitek's final game at Fenway Park.
It was the least they could do to show their gratitude to the man who was the heart and soul of the Red Sox during a pair of World Series titles in 2004 and '07.
"I was very fortunate to come up when I did and be a part of this organization with him," Lester said. "I learned a lot from him, and he helped me out a lot early in my career and helped a lot of guys out. I think that kind of sums up Tek."
Varitek did more than help Lester evolve into a two-time All-Star. He caught the left-hander's no-hitter on May 19, 2008. Of course that wasn't the only gem Varitek played a role in. He's the only backstop in Major League history to catch four no-hitters.
"It's pretty special to be a part of that group, share it with him," Lester said. "Obviously, it's something that I will always remember and cherish, hopefully he will, too."
Varitek's contributions to the Red Sox go above and beyond the no-hitters. He will be forever remembered as a great teammate, a student of the game, a fierce competitor and a fearless leader.
"He was a great catcher, a great player and a great friend," said current Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who calls Varitek a mentor.
Those qualities came to the forefront on July 24, 2004, during a game between the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park. Who can forget Varitek's iconic scuffle with Alex Rodriguez as the two walked down the first-base line after Bronson Arroyo plunked the Yankees' third baseman?
"That was just one of those moments that you don't see too often," Ortiz said. "That was Tek, man. Tek was a guy that every time he took the field, he gave everything he had just to provide good things for this organization. He was the kind of teammate who got your back. That [image] is just something that tells you what was going through his mind on the field. He's the nicest guy ever and a great human being, but once you crossed the lines, he was going to beat up on the competition, that was him."
Still, Varitek did more than stand up for his teammates. He prepared them. He never lost sight of his primary responsibility: commanding the pitching staff.
"He was the most prepared player that I've been around," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell, Boston's pitching coach from 2006-10. "From the way he studied a game plan, put together a game plan and the things that he would talk about to really his ability to execute it as it related to what a given pitcher's strengths were on a game that night. Every pitcher had the utmost trust in him and his game calling, and he was always about one thing: it was about getting the most out of the guy on the mound.
"But a leader in every sense from the way he prepared, the way he played, the competitive nature. The amount of times he played hurt, it was an honor to be in the same uniform as Jason Varitek."
Now, Varitek has shed the Red Sox jersey adorned with the red "C" on his left shoulder that symbolized his status as team captain. He announced his retirement on March 1. His days are filled with being a father to his four children.
"I've been busy being a dad, being a husband, playing some golf," Varitek said. "It's gone relatively fast. I go home, have dinner and flip on the Red Sox."
Varitek isn't done with baseball, though. There could be a career as a coach or instructor somewhere down the line.
"I do believe I have some gifts to teach and to be a part of things in those regards," he said. "But it's still too early for me to make that decision. What's most important is my life, my family and everything and being involved in some of those things I've missed."
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.