BOSTON, Mass.–Despite belting a home run on opening day, Jason Varitek’s insistence on continuing his tradition of being serenaded to the plate by a decade-old Three Doors Down song has increasingly drawn the ire of Theo Epstein.
The song, Kryptonite, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000. While catchy enough to capture a nation’s heart during the first summer of the millenium, the song’s stalwart status as Varitek’s at-bat intro music seems to have finally pushed Epstein over the edge, according to sources citing the general manager’s well-documented affinity for Pearl Jam.
“I think Theo looks at a guy like Jason Bay, who started going to the plate to [Pearl Jam’s hit single] Alive after he got traded to Boston, and he sees potential for Varitek to get out of this awful rut he’s been in the last year and a half,” said one source with direct knowledge of the situation.
According to an assistant present during contract talks with Scott Boras this past winter, Epstein even went so far as to attempt to insert a clause into Varitek’s contract requiring him to change his at-bat song to Lukin. After reluctantly listening to the minute-long cut from Pearl Jam’s 1996 album No Code, Varitek firmly declined.
Continued badgering from the GM only served to make the situation more tenuous. According to some obervers’ versions, Epstein routinely crank called Varitek during spring training, spamming the catcher’s Blackberry with links to classic concert footage and loudly playing snippets of various Pearl Jam tunes when the Captain answered his cell phone.
The trouble for Epstein at this juncture will be finding a team willing to make a deal so early into the season. The Texas Rangers’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a home run on Tuesday night, meaning the asking price has likely only gone up since offseason trade talks between the two clubs fizzled. The shared fear within the club now is that Epstein will complete any deal floated his way for any backstop willing to be introduced to Pearl Jam music. It could be almost anybody, sources say.
Perhaps even more disturbing is a club insider’s assertion that Epstein has wanted to rid the Red Sox of Varitek for several years because of the song choice. “This is going to be really hard to hear for some Boston fans, but Theo was ready to ship the guy out of here at the end of 2006, when he still had some value…Unfortunately, he was overruled by ownership and he ultimately either lost interest or relented because Pearl Jam was on tour and he had tickets to something like 20 out of 23 shows that spring.”
Opinions of Red Sox fans interviewed in Kenmore Square after Wednesday night’s 7-2 loss ran the gamut.
“I love Theo, but that song was around way before he was,” said Shelly Silva, 29, of Yarmouth. “I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised people are still talking about trading the Captain of the team. He has more home runs than David Ortiz…”
Meanwhile, Bert Fleisch, 41, of Wellesley is happy to give Epstein a few suggestions for a replacement. “You know who I like is that guy for the Braves who’s already hit two home runs this year. Seems like he might be the best bet to get a guy on the team who can hit 60 dingers for us.”