It’s generally agreed that Jason Varitek’s tussle with Alex Rodriguez in July 2004 sparked the Boston Red Sox and helped end the Curse of the Bambino.

It may have also fueled this year’s stellar crop of high school catchers in Maine.

Three Maine catchers have caught the attention of NCAA Division I scouts: Brendan Tinsman, a junior at Cape Elizabeth, has verbally committed to play at Wake Forest; Jackson Coutts, a senior at Orono and a 2016 Maine Sunday Telegram All-State selection, received a scholarship from Rhode Island; and Brandon Hall, a senior at Thornton Academy, will play at Wagner University.

They head a strong group of catchers that includes junior Michael Wrigley of Wells, senior Nick Turcotte of Erskine Academy, junior Colby Wagner of Freeport, junior Titus Kaewthong of Oceanside and senior Dylan Fried of Greely.

Tinsman wears Varitek’s uniform number, 33, though he favors San Francisco’s Buster Posey. But others point to Varitek as a reason why they are catching.

“I wanted to be like him,” said Wrigley. “My mom is from Massachusetts and we love Boston sports. That’s what it was. He’s that tough guy. He hit A-Rod in the face. I liked that a lot. I have a big poster of that in my room.”

Coutts saw the same thing. “(Varitek) was great to watch,” he said. “I liked how he did everything and he could hit, too … He was pretty calm, but he had a fire in him sometimes, like when he fought A-Rod. He was a great leader. That’s what I try to be, I try to be the guy other guys look up to to get it done.”

This group of catchers is getting it done.

“There are a lot of good ones around,” said University of Maine softball coach Mike Coutts, a former baseball coach at Deering and Scarborough High and father of Jackson. “Maybe that’s the way the cycle is now. But it’s good to see.”

As Scarborough Coach Mike D’Andrea, long recognized as one of the state’s best high school coaches, said, “Well, you can’t win without a catcher. Good teams will exploit you, expose you.”

Mike Coutts added, “I don’t care if it’s baseball or softball, a good catcher makes your pitching staff better. They have more confidence … It makes your team better if they see that the catcher is a hard worker and good leader and has control of the game. If you don’t have a good leader behind the plate, you’re not going to have a good team.”

WELL-ROUNDED ATHLETES

The three Division I candidates share a trait that makes them even more valuable.

“I think all those guys are athletic,” said Nick Caiazzo, the director of baseball operations at the Edge Academy in Portland and a former minor leaguer who played several positions, including catcher. “From a high school baseball perspective, you want your best athletes touching the ball all the time, in the middle of the field. Sometimes, you put them at shortstop, but that might not be the best scenario. Sometimes you want to put them behind the plate.”

Coutts, who will likely pitch and play outfield at Rhode Island, also played football and basketball. Tinsman ran indoor track (55, 200 and relays). Hall played basketball until his sophomore year, when he decided he’d rather practice baseball in the winter.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play professional baseball,” said Hall, who lives in Kennebunk. “I don’t know if there’s one thing I can pinpoint that I love about baseball. It’s about showing up, putting on the cleats, working on blocking and throwing and hitting. I just like seeing myself get better and improving.”

TAKING CHARGE

Hall, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, is regarded as an exceptional defensive catcher with a strong arm. “My favorite thing about catching is throwing people out,” said Hall.

Tinsman, who has traveled the nation while playing for summer league teams in California and North Carolina, helped Cape Elizabeth advance to the Class B regional finals in his first two seasons.

“His demeanor rubs off on the rest of the team,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Andrew Wood. “You have to have energy, you have to be tough, you have to hustle. To have a Division I catcher back there is the reason our team is successful.”

Tinsman, 6-2, 210, is hitting .559 with four home runs. He became a catcher at age 11 because everyone else in his family caught, from his father (Patrick) to his brother (Chris, who played at Rhode Island) to his sister (Ashley, a catcher on UMaine’s softball team).

“(Catching) is not easy, but I like being involved in every single pitch, being able to lead the team in most aspects of the game,” said Tinsman. “That’s what drew me in and kept me there.”

Jackson Coutts agreed: “I’ve always liked catching. I usually get to call the game and I enjoy doing that. I’m in control even though I’m not pitching.”

Coutts, 6-3, 235, plays several positions and is hitting .632 with 19 RBI. He has been walked him intentionally 20 times, including three times with the bases loaded. He has not struck out this year.

EMBRACING THEIR ROLE

Wells Coach Todd Day said having a good catcher “is a blessing.” He saw something in Wrigley, who is also an outstanding football player and wrestler, as a freshman. “He’s a competitor and you need one behind the plate,” said Day. “That sets the tone for the rest of the defense.”

It isn’t easy being a catcher. Bodies are bruised from blocking pitches in the dirt, knees ache from constant crouching. And when it’s hot and humid, the equipment can be suffocating.

But Tinsman wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Now, when I’m playing down in Georgia in the summer, when it’s over 100 (degrees) and 90 percent humidity, that’s when it’s bad and you think, ‘Maybe I should play the outfield.’ ” he said. “But after the game, once it’s over and you’re done sweating, then I’m glad I’m catching.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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