March 31, 2011

The JoS Interview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been on the Red Sox's radar since at least mid-2008.

In September of that year, the Boston Globe reported that the team was "intrigued" by the Rangers' 23-year-old, switch-hitting backstop. While Texas had a surplus of catchers, including Gerald Laird and Taylor Teagarden, it was widely known that Boston would have to give up a top pitching prospect to get him. That pitching prospect was Clay Buchholz, whose 6.75 ERA that year had led to a demotion to the minors.

The Sons of Sam Horn had a poll:
"Would you trade Clay Buchholz for Jarrod Saltalamacchia?"
Yes: 169
No: 189
In November 2008, Saltalamacchia said that playing for the Red Sox would be "a dream come true. ... I'd love to go there and either work under Jason [Varitek] for a year or two or just go there and catch full-time. I love watching Jason. He's like an idol of mine."

No trade was made, however, and Saltalamacchia stayed in Texas. He began 2009 in AAA, but played in 84 games for the Rangers, hitting an unimpressive .233/.290/.371. He spent the first half of 2010 in AAA before Boston acquired him at the July 31 trade deadline for three minor leaguers (none of whom have yet to play above A ball).

Salty appeared in 10 games for the Red Sox, hitting .158, but walking enough to have a .360 OBP, before a torn ligament in his left thumb (which he had suffered in July while still with Texas) ended his season.

According to several reports over the winter, after surgery on his thumb, Salty -- having the inside track on being the starting catcher for 2011 -- worked like a fiend with catching instructor Gary Tuck (who actually moved from his home in Indiana to Florida to be near Saltalamacchia). For nine weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday,
they would meet at a local high school or drive 80 miles north to the Los Angeles Dodgers' abandoned complex in Vero Beach and sweat through drill after drill for 2.5 hours in what Red Sox manager Terry Francona dubbed "Camp Tuck". Tuck has another name for it: "The Salty Project".
In camp this spring, both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett noted Salty's improvement (and Tek-like mannerisms) behind the plate. Salty, who turns 26 on May 2, led the team in hitting this spring, with a .405 average and a 1.114 OPS. Although he played in only 15 games, he led the Sox with 10 RBI and tied for the lead in doubles, with six.

Thanks to the help of Jim Munsey, Saltalamacchia's agent, I can present this Opening Day Eve interview with the man who has the longest last name in major league history (which also includes the name of our dog, Tala):

Was there a delay in starting your off-season workouts, because of the thumb surgery? Did you work with Gary Tuck right away? You said working with Tuck was "something I've been wanting to do for a long time". Can you elaborate on that?

My thumb surgery set me back about a month from when I would usually start my winter program, but I was able to catch up. Tuck has quite a reputation as a catching instructor league-wide and he was friendly with Scott Servais, who helped me in Texas. I was hoping to work with Tuck earlier but it's a little tricky when a player in one organization approaches a coach from another. It's sort of frowned upon.

Did Tuck have an overall program or was there specific stuff that you (and/or the Red Sox) thought needed work? One article stated you worked with him for a few hours a day, twice a week and worked on "receiving, blocking and footwork ... technical aspects of the craft". Can you describe one or two of the drills or exercises, something an average fan might not be familiar with?

Like you said, we worked on everything! From footwork to receiving to blocking to throwing motion. The drills involve lots of repetition and are geared to muscle memory. I could tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. This stuff is pretty secretive. : ) It was well worth it.

Terry Francona said Tuck has never seen somebody buy into the program as much as you have. Theo Epstein said you emerged "catching Gary Tuck style". What are the main philosophies (or "style") that they are talking about, and how do they differ from what you may have thought before coming to Boston?

Honestly, I probably can't really get into the whole philosophical differences but when they talk of "buying into" the program, they are referring to the fact that I was an absolute sponge when listening to Tuck. Obviously, anyone in this game wants to be the best they can be. My thought was simple, this guy has been working with Jason Varitek who swears by him - I can probably learn something from a guy like that!

In camp, how much work do you end up doing with each pitcher? Is it more talking with them (as opposed to actual catching), where they tell you their tendencies or ideas or how they are coming along with various pitches, etc.? You do that with mostly the starting pitchers only, I assume.

Actually, it's the same for all pitchers, starters, relievers and closers. My goal is to work with them and get to know each of them individually so I can better understand what their particular tendencies, strengths, and dislikes might be. The goal is to work together out there so they are comfortable, which translates into pitching their best. Getting to know them personality-wise is also important for that reason.

It seems like all that work would eat into the time you have to spend on hitting. While I know the team has said that your bat is secondary to what you do behind the plate, what are hoping to improve on as a hitter this year?

You're right, my main focus is on handling the staff and helping the pitchers be the best they can be. While hitting is secondary, especially in the lineup we're trotting out there everyday, I'm still a baseball player and want to be as complete as I can. I'm trying to improve my right-handed approach and swing. It's actually beginning to show some signs, but it's a work in progress.

The nicknames we hear from the team are pretty lame: Youk, Pedey, Tek, Ells, Pap, Salty - they are all just a portion of the guy's name. We have our own nicknames on the blog for some of the players, but are there any real nicknames being used down there that you could share?

Not on a family website like this, no. :)

Family website? Hmmm ... I knew I wouldn't get anything truly entertaining with that last question, but I thought maybe a "Dr. Doubles"-esque answer was a possibility. Alas.


MacLeodCartoons said...

You gotta ask the nicknames question. Back in the 80's I remember meeting a guy who knew the Scottish national rugby team really well, and he told me that my favorite player's in-house nickname was "Plunger" in reference to his having a certain body part that was apparently radically over-sized. I have giggled about that nickname probably about once a month for the last quarter century.

allan said...

I probably should have mentioned "Dr. Doubles" in my Q as an example.

Rick (f/k/a westcoastsox) said...

Happy Opening Day!

Jim said...

As they say in the biz--great get! Classy of Salty to take the time to email replies. Maybe an actual meet is in order when they come to TO?

And "Camp Tuck"? Not Camp Tucksie?

Pokerwolf said...

Woohoo! I can't wait for tomorrow! Here's a song to get you ready:

Zenslinger said...

CC looking good so far, sorry to say.

Nice that you were able to get the interview.

allan said...

Here's a song to get you ready:

That song is pure SHIT.

I was avoiding any mention of it. ... So thanks! :>)

allan said...

CC looking good so far, sorry to say.

It's only one inning!

Zenslinger said...

Now the Cheese is in trouble -- and he has not done well in his opening day performances for the Yanks.

I wonder if there's ever been an ML player who homered in the first at bat two years in a row -- much less those years being their first and second in the league. Jason Heyward did it.

allan said...

DET - 01
MFY - 0

Kathryn said...

Go Tigers.

allan said...

Wow, GDGD got a facelift.

Zenslinger said...

GDGD wouldn't load for me. New laptop -- maybe something's not loaded? I have Flash and Java.

Zenslinger said...

Is Aaron Boone the announcer with the heavy, overemphatic voice saying all the stupid shit? More than one reason to dislike him, I guess.

Benjamin said...


Zenslinger said...

No, it was Sutcliffe who's so awful.

3R HR for Teixeria.

allan said...

DET - 010 11
MFY - 003 0

Pokerwolf said...

GDGD *definitely* got a face lift.

4-3, MFYs in the bottom of the 7th.

laura k said...

No, it was Sutcliffe who's so awful.

That explains it. He is my most hated announcer.

What an awful song!

tim said...

Very nice, well done Allan.