FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia knew there was something special about Jason Varitek long before they became teammates.
Saltalamacchia thinks it might have been 2007, when he was playing for the Atlanta Braves, that he sent a jersey to the Red Sox's clubhouse and had Varitek sign it for him.
"He signed a jersey for me, and on it, it said, 'Catch with pride.' You take that and that's just kind of what he's done his whole career," said Saltalamacchia. "I'm going to do the same."
In effect, Varitek has fully passed the baton to Saltalamacchia with the news he will retire Thursday.
Saltalamacchia very much feels ready to settle in as Boston's primary catcher for the present and future. And despite his similarly rugged frame and the fact he is also a switch-hitter, Saltalamacchia knows not to try to be Varitek.
What is the biggest thing Varitek taught his understudy?
"I think just be yourself. Be who you are. People are going to like you for who you are," Saltalamacchia said. "People are going to respect you for what you do, how you go about your business. There's a lot of little things as far as catching that I learned from him. It's mainly to be a good person, be a good teammate and respect the game."
Last season, Saltalamacchia mirrored his team. He started slow, got hot in the middle and faded badly at the end.
With Varitek gone, Saltalamacchia knows that he needs to become a more reliable player.
"I would like to be a little more consistent at the plate and cut down on strikeouts, try to put the ball in play, try to give our team the best chance as possible and just do whatever I can that game to help the team win," said Saltalamacchia. "I want to go home every night with a 'W.'"
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has enjoyed getting his first looks at Saltalamacchia.
"It seems to me he's a player who is trying to step right into his own. He feels like this is his time," Valentine said. "He's shown good physical skills in his catching, and his batting practice is good. Right-handed, he's hitting really well. He's trying to take a leadership role with the pitchers. We've had a lot of communication sessions. When I've gotten to those sessions, he's applying himself. [Catching instructor] Gary Tuck likes him a lot."
While Saltalamacchia's career had seemed in the breakdown lane at the end of his time with the Rangers, he credits Varitek with helping him rediscover his confidence.
"I learned a lot from him. He gave me the confidence back that I needed to be a player," Saltalamacchia said. "He's just such a special guy, such a special player that we're going to continue to have that relationship open and I can go to him at any time."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.