Salty credits success to Varitek's support

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Salty credits success to Varitek's support

BOSTON -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia made a point of seeking out Jason Varitek and Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck on his first visit to Fenway Park as an Atlanta Braves rookie way back in 2007.

He wanted to formally introduce himself to both icons of the catching fraternity for totally different reasons.

Varitek was Saltalamacchias switch-hitting catcher role model while growing up in Florida, and Tuck was a coach renowned for his work with top-notch catchers.

That little show of respect, homage and admiration won Saltalamacchia a lot of fans within the Red Sox organization, and was one of the first events that put the young backstop on Bostons radar.

So it was fitting Saltalamacchia nearly authored the stereotypical happy ending to Jason Varitek Day at Fenway Park on Saturday night when he blasted a three-run homer in the second inning. The three-run homer gave the Sox an early 3-0 lead and might have owed an assist to the 15-minute pregame ceremony honoring the retired Varitek.

It was pretty cool. I had goose bumps the whole time Aaron Cook was warming up. I am happy that Varitek calls me a friend. Hes a great guy, said Saltalamacchia, who was the one player that didnt have any offensive explaining to do in another Red Sox loss. Varitek had a huge impact. He was the first guy that really built my confidence back up againhim and Gary Tuck.

Saltalamacchia was, of course, a little of a technical mess when he arrived in Boston from the Texas Rangers organization. A hand injury and a case of the yips left him with problems throwing the ball from behind the plate, and both men worked tirelessly to refine and streamline his catching mechanics.

Thats something the 27-year-old isnt likely to forget anytime soon, and could have pushed him out of baseball prematurely if he didnt land with the right people.

They were the two guys together in my corner and really rooting for me. That felt good. Given everything that hes accomplished in his career he still took the time to work with me, said Saltalamacchia. Things he said compliment-wise couldnt help but make me feel better about myself. Hes just an all-around great ballplayer, great friend and a great teammate.

The Sox eventually fell by a 7-3 score against Toronto, but it was Saltalamacchia that nearly became the focal point in carrying the day for the Sox with the home run. The long ball over the right field wall snapped him out an 0-for-14 funk, and was his first home run since smacking a three-run bomb against the New York Yankees back on July 6.

Having two runners in scoring position allowed the catcher to simply think about getting some lift on the ball for a potential sacrifice fly, but instead he got the four-bag bonus plan.

I was trying to score those guys. He left a slider up and I was able to do some damage, said Saltalamacchia. Thats about it.

If only it were always that simple.

The home run arrived in his first at-bat back in the starting lineup after hed been prescribed some mandatory rest.

Bobby Valentine had given the fatigued Saltalamacchia a rest in the previous three games after watching the catchers batting average plummet below .230. That appeared to be the right call given his first swing back after watching backup catcher Kelly Shoppach string together a few starts in a row.

Fittingly the second inning slam was Saltalamacchias career-high 18th home run of the season, and marks the most round-trippers smacked by a Sox backstop since Varitek hit 22 bombs during an All-Star season in 2005. The home run also keeps Salty on a 31 home run pace for the season that would shatter the single-season franchise record held by Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

The offense from Saltalamacchia is nice, according to Varitek. But its the little things that the retired backstop now takes pleasure in watching as his protg keeps the catching gospel of Varitek and Tuck alive along Yawkey Way.

Everybody has started appreciating a little more what Salty was doing when he had 10, 12 or 13 home runs, said Varitek. He was catching the ball, throwing the ball and doing things very well behind the plate well before then. The offensive recognition is now giving him a different kind of recognition for things that hes been doing superbly behind the plate.

Those arent statistics, though. Those arent things that people can hold onto. But to see those intangible things was such a job. Just watching him catch at the beginning of the season and watching the way hes doing things. Its nice. His work and everything that hes gone through the last year-and-half while being here looks really good.

Style-wise Saltalamacchia and Varitek are certainly different players at both the offensive and defensive end. But its fitting that Saltalamacchia is flirting with club records held by guys named Fisk and Varitek, and the young apprentice did his very best to make his mentor proud one last time on his Fenway name day.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.