FORT MYERS, Fla. — One after the next, the compliments toward Jarrod Saltalamacchia have come rolling in. In his first spring training with the Red Sox, the 25-year-old catcher is drawing rave reviews.
Almost every member of the starting rotation has indicated that Saltalamacchia is acting more and more like Jason Varitek, a nod to the youngster's solid first step into the role of a leader.
It was Josh Beckett who said it first on Tuesday, calling Varitek a "good guy to look like" if you were trying to make it as a catcher.
On Wednesday, a few others chimed in.
"I think he reminds me of Tek," Jon Lester said. "He's got that presence about him. When he talks you listen and I don't know if that's because he's a big son of a gun or what, but he comes out there and says something, you listen to what he says.
"That's why guys like that fit in around here. We don't like guys that pussyfoot around here. Like Tek, you know how he is, he comes out there and he tells you how it is. There's no getting around it. You listen to what he has to say. You may not agree with it at the time, but when it's all said and done he's probably right. Salty's got that same kind of mindset."
Although it's just the player development complex, Saltalamacchia does hold down a locker room with a pretty prominent position, the first in a row that features several other backstops within the system.
Not only is he the first in that line, which includes Luis Exposito and Ryan Lavarnway, but Saltalamacchia has become an example in the rigorous work that Red Sox catchers are put through by instructor Gary Tuck.
Saltalamacchia went through Tuck's offseason regimen multiple times a week this winter. Tuck told manager Terry Francona that he had never seen someone "buy in" as much as Saltalamacchia did. Francona's beginning to see the results.
"We talk about the opportunity for Salty. I think he's actually earned this," Francona said. "He's worked hard at this. We didn't do this out of the kindness of our heart. We want to win. He's bought into everything. The idea that somebody's dropping a Varitek on him is a pretty big compliment.
The skipper knows that the feeling is mutual among the catching tandem.
"Tek's bought into it, too," he said. "They're really close. It's easy to say, 'Well, Tek's around, he'll rub off.' But Tek's bought into this, too. Tek likes this kid."
Daisuke Matsuzaka added later on that he is eager to throw more to Saltalamacchia, who caught one very solid start by the right-hander last year. Matsuzaka said that Saltalamacchia reminded him of some Japanese catchers in terms of his playing style, perhaps signaling a nice partnership for the pair in 2011.
All these words eventually trickled back to Saltalamacchia, who stood at that first locker and reflected on what it meant to be compared to the captain.
"It means everything," Saltalamacchia said. "His leadership qualities are through the roof. How he controls the pitchers, how he leads in the clubhouse. To me, that's a huge compliment because that's a guy I've watched over the years. The guy's a leader."
To hear some of his teammates and manager speak of it, so is Saltalamacchia.
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