A View From Studio 3: Singing Salty's praises
The resumes are eye-popping. The names are Hall of Fame worthy. From Clayton Kershaw, to Carlos Beltran to David Ortiz. The 2013 postseason is chock full of stars in both leagues, and at all positions.
As if the faces of the game weren't enough to make you watch, we're also witnessing a renaissance when it comes to young pitchers. Young men like Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray are not just pitching in the playoffs, but starring in October.
Between the Silver Sluggers and Cy Young hopefuls are a group of players who just don't seem to get their due on a national level.
Guys who, in certain circles, are more valuable than their numbers may dictate.
Front and center in that group is Boston Red Sox 28-year-old catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He was, and is, a key reason why the Red Sox have gone from worst to first and are still drying off from their most recent champagne celebration. During the clubhouse party at Tropicana Field after Tuesday's Division Series clincher, Saltalamacchia said the goggles saved his eyes from the sweet sting of bubbly.
In his three full seasons with the Red Sox, the West Palm Beach, Fla., native has played for three different managers: Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine and now, John Farrell. Jarrod says he hopes the current skipper "doesn't change anytime soon."
Why would he? The team and player have hit their stride under Farrell. Quite the change from the 2012 disaster in Beantown.
On the topic of change, Saltalamacchia has changed a bit since settling in with Boston. Evolved may actually be a better word to describe it. This past season he posted career highs in batting, slugging, OPS, RBIs and several other categories. Think about this: Saltalamacchia improved his on-base percentage 50 points from 2012 to 2013, from .288 to a robust .338.
When it comes to power hitting catchers, he's entered an elite category. In the last three seasons, only Matt Wieters (67), Carlos Santana (65), Brian McCann (64) and J.P. Arencibia (62) have more homers from the catcher position than Saltalamacchia (55).
The part of Salty's game that is more difficult to quantify is his game-calling skills. Know this: Red Sox pitchers have raved about his work behind the plate. He gives former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek major credit for helping him improve. One key, Salty says, is to remember that "all of us are human beings," and getting to know one another helps to develop an of field rapport.
Whether it's having a meal together or playing golf, it all helps the cause when this self proclaimed "baseball junkie" steps between the white lines.
While many fans were surprised the Sox captured the American League East crown, Salty says this group believed in Spring Training that they had a very good club. Turns out they were so good that they took care of their own business and now can kick back and watch Game 5 of the Tigers-Athletics series on Thursday night.
Make no mistake, they will watch the game ... together. Dustin Pedroia lives next to Saltalamacchia and they'll get together for the winner-takes-all contest. These Red Sox can relax and wait for a dance partner, knowing home-field advantage is in their back pocket.
Asked if he's allowed himself to dream about the possibility of winning a World Series title in front of the home fans, the backstop says exactly what you and I would say if asked the same question.
"We've all been dreaming of that since we were kids," Saltalamacchia said.
See? Major League Players are human beings, just like their millions of fans. The only difference is that Saltalamacchia and his teammates actually have a legitimate shot of hoisting the trophy.
The coming weeks and months may be the official coming out party for this father of three little girls. He has a shot to show a national fan base he is a budding star, a switch-hitting catcher in his prime who is able to handle one of the best pitching staffs in the game.
Add to that, Saltalamacchia's impending free agency. He says, "I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about it," and added that he'd like to remain in Boston, but also understands business aspects of baseball. He also understands how important it is to focus on winning a title.
And with Saltalamacchia as a steady force behind the plate, Boston may end up back on top of the baseball world.