Catcher Jason Varitek finished his college career a year later than expected and a year poorer at the bank, after having returned to Georgia Tech for his senior season instead of signing with the Minnesota Twins, who had made him the 21st pick in the 1993 amateur draft. But Varitek, who this season was Baseball America's Player of the Year and the Dick Howser Trophy winner, turned in his uniform last Saturday with no regrets.
A year ago Varitek was packing up his apartment, watching the College World Series on TV and saying his goodbyes around campus. "I never thought for the life of me that I would be back," said Varitek, a 6'2", 207-pound switch-hitter. But negotiations with the Twins stalled. Varitek had expected to sign for something close to the $625,000 that Miami's Charles Johnson had received the year before from the Florida Marlins as the highest-drafted college catcher. Minnesota offered Varitek about $450,000 and didn't budge.
So when he attended his first class last September, Varitek became only the second first-round pick in 15 years to return to college for his final year of eligibility ( Virginia Tech's Brad Duvall, in 1987, was the other). Then on June 2, at which point he was batting .432 and Georgia Tech was 47-16, Varitek was drafted 14th overall by the Seattle Mariners. He plans to sign with Seattle, but he doesn't know yet if he'll get the money he wants.
While some of his bargaining leverage is gone because he no longer has the option of returning to the draft pool, he doesn't see it that way. "My leverage is still there because my talent's still there," says Varitek. "I don't think a kid should be condemned for going back to get an education."
Although he had a strong series, batting .333 with two home runs and five RBIs, Varitek finished his college career with a fizzle instead of a blast. In his last at bat, in the championship game against Oklahoma, he hit a dribbler down the third base line and was thrown out by the Sooner catcher to end the game. "Maybe next year," Varitek said of Tech, which next season will have to get to Omaha without 'Tek. "Just being here was a dream come true."