Try to name the catchers in spring training for the Boston Red Sox and three quickly come to mind – Christian Vazquez (the starter), Ryan Hanigan (the new backup) and Blake Swihart (the top prospect).

But others, not on the 40-man roster, are in Fort Myers, Florida, including one familiar to Hadlock Field regulars.

Matt Spring, in his 11th season in the pros, is getting a taste of the big leagues, if only briefly. And in Florida, not Fenway.

Spring, 30, may never actually reach the majors. The odds are against him, but Spring knows he lives an enviable life. He collects a paycheck for playing baseball.

“I definitely count my blessings, being able to play this long,” Spring said in January during a visit to Portland. “Hopefully I’ll continue to play for a few more years – three or five, whatever is on the table for me.”

As for playing in Boston …

“I know I may not be option No. 1, but maybe I’m option No. 2 or 3,” Spring said. “You never know what kind of opportunity you’re going to get. I know they like me or they wouldn’t continue to bring me back.”

He has a point. This is the fifth straight season Boston has signed Spring as a free agent.

A fourth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2004, Spring is known for his catching skills. The Rays moved him around the minor leagues back then, having him catch their top prospects (David Price, etc.).

Since the days of Jason Varitek, the Red Sox have valued catchers who take care of their staffs. Left-handed prospect Brian Johnson threw to Spring for the first time last March.

“Probably my best game all spring,” said Johnson, who never shook off a pitch call from Spring. “He really gave me that confidence going into the season.

“After the game I didn’t know him too well. He pulled me aside, put his arm around me and said, ‘That was fun.’ I can’t give Spring enough credit for little things like that. Just getting the confidence from an older guy like that.”

Spring is also known as a leader in the clubhouse, even though he’s been a backup. He’s caught the better part of the past four seasons in Portland. The last two years he was watched prospects Vazquez and Swihart show up, then move on.

Spring never saw them as competition.

“For one thing, both of those kids are really good kids,” Spring said. “They’re fun to be around. They ask questions. With Boston, all the catchers are a team.”

Longtime minor league free agents can become negative influences, upset over not getting a chance. When told that, Spring almost looked like he didn’t understand the question.

“If you want to come to the field and be miserable, it’s going to make for a long season,” he said. “If you want to come to the field with a good attitude and have fun while you’re doing it, not only is it going to help some kids see how they can act, but it makes it more fun for us.

“I think it’s great to be able to come to the field every day and build some comradery with the guys. It makes the long season seems a lot shorter.”

Spring will back up Swihart in Pawtucket or return to Portland as the likely starter. Last season he put together his best offensive numbers in four years, compiling an .818 OPS over 43 games in Portland and Pawtucket.

That made re-signing for another season a no-brainer, “coming off the year I had last year – very productive at the plate and behind the plate.”

After each season, Spring talks about the future with his agent and with his wife, Meredith. For now it’s baseball, even though Spring said it becomes more difficult every year to leave Meredith and their 2-year-old son, Maddox (Bo). They live in Columbus, Georgia, and, during the baseball season, he tries to visit Matt once a month.

“I do miss a lot,” Spring said. “It’s getting harder … Leaving for spring training will be tough. But they’ll come down to visit. We’ll make it work.”

If he can’t be with family, he’ll settle for teammates.

“I like being here,” he said, “and I like the people I’m going to be surrounded by.”


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