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.