While working on a story on Victor Martinez, I spoke to Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck yesterday afternoon.
He remembers seeing Martinez at the age of 17 or 18, when he was a prospect in the Cleveland organization and Tuck was scouting for the team. Martinez was signed as a shortstop and then made a catcher by Minnie Mendoza, the team's Latin American coordinator
"I wish I could have worked with him then, you could see he had talent," Tuck said. "He really has come a long way."
Tuck and his catchers are a tight-knit bunch in spring training, doing daily drills in the bullpen that seem designed to torture the players. Tuck has a bag of little, gumball-sized baseballs and delights in sitting in front of the catchers and flipping the balls at them two or three at a time. The object is to catch the balls with just your fingers.
Tuck also has small, kid-sized mitts that the catchers use, the idea being that it'll be easier once they use their own gloves. He also uses a pitching machine to fire balls at the catchers in rapid succession from close range.
"He does some unique things," Martinez said. "But it all helps you."
Tuck assigned Martinez and Jason Varitek to work together, and the two are in constant communication. The Red Sox believe these six weeks will improve Martinez's catching and handling of the pitching staff after he parachuted into the middle of a pennant race last season.
"There are always things you can improve on. With Victor, itís just the overall game, improving techniques in every phase," Tuck said. "He's embracing it all."
The presence of Varitek helps as well. He is essentially educating the man who took his job.
"Heís a Red Sox, No. 1. He cares about this team more than anything else and he cares about people," Tuck said. "Victor knows Jason is there for him. It could be a hard situation otherwise."