Red Sox

Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect

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Picard: An example of why Varitek was a man of respect

There's a time and a place for everything. And Jason Varitek has decided the time and place for his retirement will be Thursday in Fort Myers.

Every Red Sox fan knows the captain's story.

I just thought I'd share one more.

It was a Tuesday night at Fenway Park in April 2010, one of the first Red Sox games I ever covered. It was the night Darnell McDonald -- on the same day he was called up from the minors -- won it with a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth, after he'd hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer that tied the score in the bottom of the eighth. It was also the night the Red Sox battery of Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez allowed nine stolen bases in five innings, extending the team's streak of consecutive steals allowed to 29.

McDonald was the story of the night, obviously. But my assignment was the stolen bases.

Varitek -- who replaced Martinez in the top of the eighth, after Martinez was pinch-run for in the bottom of the seventh -- sat in his chair, facing his locker, following the game. The postgame scrum was elsewhere, and he was alone.

The way I looked at it, he was the captain. If there was something going so badly wrong with an aspect of the team's performance that his position was involved in, he would have the answer.

So I looked at my colleague, Sean McAdam, and asked him if it was cool to approach Varitek.

I was new to the Red Sox clubhouse. But I'd been there often enough to know that it certainly wasn't the Bruins dressing room. Anyone and everyone in a hockey dressing room is approachable.

Sean looked at Varitek, looked back at me, and gave the okay.

I was only 10 feet away. But the walk felt like an entire lap around Castle Island.

By the time I got there, I was already regretting the decision. But there was no retreating at that point.

There was so much I could have done. I could have introduced myself. I could have told him I was a lifelong standing-room, season-ticket holder at Fenway Park. I could have told him I'll always remember exactly where I was when he stiff-armed Alex Rodriguez in 2004. All to start the conversation on a more pleasant note.

Instead, I hit the record button on my tape recorder and asked him about the nine stolen bases.

To be honest, I don't remember exactly what he responded with. I just know it wasn't good enough to fill my only story of the night.

So I asked him again, wording the question differently.

He turned left and slightly upward, making eye contact with me for the first time. He gave the same type of generic response. Only this time, his tone was far more aggressive, and the look on his face was far less pleasant. He punctuated his response with "Period. End of question." I thanked him for his time and retreated.

Just several days earlier, Terry Francona had laughed in my face and called me out for the way I'd asked what, otherwise, would have been a fair question, completely and unnecessarily embarrassing me. With Francona, I swallowed my pride, plopped myself in the front row the very next night, and asked him second question of the press conference. I got right back on the horse.

But now it had happened again. It bothered me.

Maybe Varitek saw it in my face. Or maybe he simply felt bad about the way he responded. In any case, 20 minutes later -- as I stood on the other side of the Red Sox clubhouse -- I felt a hand come down on my shoulder.

There was Varitek -- arm wrapped heavily with ice -- apologizing for the way he reacted to my questions.

Like his answer to those questions, I don't remember today exactly what he said. I just know he went out of his way to walk over to the other side of the clubhouse and offered a sincere apology.

There was no camera on him. There were no lights or microphones in his face. Nobody was going to put this in their postgame notebook.

Despite his frustration with my negative questions, Varitek knew I was just doing my job. And whether he agreed with the line of questioning or not, he probably could tell by the look on my face that he'd left me somewhat rattled.

It was the first and only time a professional athlete has gone out of his way to offer an apology for something that -- let's face it -- he never really had to apologize for.

I would have got over it. And so would he.

But Varitek was captain of the Red Sox for a reason. On that April night in 2010, I got a glimpse of that reason.

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

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The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

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Smart, Celtics unable to agree on contract extension prior to deadline

Smart, Celtics unable to agree on contract extension prior to deadline

CLEVELAND – For the third year in a row, a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics is unable to come to terms on a contract extension prior to the deadline.

That means Marcus Smart will become a restricted free agent this summer. Last year it was Kelly Olynyk (now with the Miami Heat) and in 2015 it was Jared Sullinger (now with Shenzhen Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association).

Both the Celtics and Smart's camp intensified their discussions in recent days as the October 16th 6 p.m. EST deadline drew near.

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While there was progress made, there wasn’t enough to get a deal done.

Smart has repeatedly indicated that he wants to re-sign a long-term deal to stay in Boston.

And the market for the 6-foot-4 guard became clearer based on the contracts that some of his fellow rookie class of 2014, were receiving.

Denver’s Gary Harris agreed to a four-year, $84 million contract after establishing himself as one of the better young two-way talents in the NBA last season. And at the other end of the financial spectrum, you would have to look at Phoenix’s T.J. Warren who signed a four-year, $50 million contract.

More than likely, Smart’s deal next summer will fall somewhere between the deals those two players received.

As much as Smart would have preferred to get a deal done heading into the season, it’s not something that he’s going to cause him to lose any sleep.

“Get it done now, or get it done in six months, I’m OK either way,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m not worried about it.”

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