At age 61, Bobby Valentine is relishing his first major-league spring training since 2002, walking rapidly from field to field, talking to players in three languages, watching, listening, exhorting, cajoling, moving, always moving.
By Ken RosenthalFoxSports
It’s 15 minutes into Bobby Valentine’s first official workout as the Boston Red Sox’s manager, and I’m already exhausted.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington walks toward me, snaps his fingers and says, “Got to pick it up!”
I’m not a player, of course. I’m not a writer trying to simulate a player. I’m just a writer following Valentine’s every move, and Bobby V. is kicking my rear.
At age 61, he is relishing his first major-league spring training since 2002, walking rapidly from field to field, talking to players in English, Spanish and Japanese, watching, listening, exhorting, cajoling, moving, always moving.
“For a guy his age to still do all that is pretty cool,” Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis says. “I’ve seen a lot of young guys (that energetic). But a man of his age, no.”
As Cherington puts it, “He’s trying to get as much out of every minute on the field as he can.”
I’m not sure Valentine will succeed with the Red Sox, not sure the players will respond to his non-stop energy after eight seasons under the more relaxed Terry Francona.
But if the players need to be snapped to attention, as management clearly believes, then Valentine is the right guy.
In a span of less than 90 minutes, Valentine completes seven full rotations through a clover of four diamonds, treating the most mundane of activities — pitching fundamental practice — as if it is an urgent matter of national defense.
Rarely is Valentine on one field for more than two minutes at a time. Often, he appears for less than a minute, then is gone again.
“Just getting to know people,” Valentine says. “That’s the way I’ve always done it. I like to see it. Feel it.”
If Valentine transforms the Red Sox’s culture, it won’t be because he will chide an overweight player like reliever Matt Albers, as he did during Tuesday’s workout.
It won’t be because he will require all players to ride team buses to Grapefruit League games, a rule that Valentine already is backing off, saying that it will be “mandatory with exceptions.”
No, if Valentine moves the needle, it will be with his relentless vigor, his voracious intellect, his desire to seek every possible edge and win every possible game.
I asked him Tuesday if there were moments during the workout when he said to himself, “Man, it’s great to be doing this again.”
“I said it at 4 o’clock,” Valentine replies. “I said it all day.”
That’s 4 o’clock, as in 4 a.m., when Valentine awakened.
A 10-mile bike ride to the Sox’s new training facility, Jet Blue Park, and his day began.
It’s 9:30. Meeting time.
Pitchers, catchers, trainers, even clubhouse personnel form a circle around Valentine. He talks about camp, tells a story or two, holds his schedule in his right hand, gesturing.
At 9:40, he shouts, “Let’s go to work!”
By 10, he is engaged in his first unusual activity of the day — a game of catch with Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Japanese photographers race to capture the moment — Valentine, of course, managed in Japan in 1995 and from 2004 to ’09.
“It was my first time playing catch with my manager since becoming a professional,” Matsuzaka says through his interpreter. “I was very nervous at the beginning.”
“That I would miss the ball?” Valentine later replies.
The game of catch appears to be either a classic Valentine attention grabber, or perhaps an attempt to connect with Matsuzaka, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Nah, Valentine says, he was just filling in while Matsuzaka’s interpreter stood near the pitcher with Sox assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann, relaying suggestions on mechanics.
At various points during the workout, Valentine adopts a more serious pose in the bullpen, standing in the right-handed batter’s box against various Sox pitchers, some of whom are quite young.
The idea is for him to get a sense of each pitcher’s stuff, and it is not without risk.
“The most important thing is to not hit him,” Matsuzaka says. “I’m sure they were a little worried about that.”
No one hits Valentine. He rarely sees more than three or four pitches. And he is moving too fast.
One fan says to another, “Y’all recognize the ball boy?”
It is Valentine, reaching into a white bucket and flipping balls to Sox minor-league coach to Glenn “Goose” Gregson, who is hitting fungoes to pitchers.
“Chin down, not chin up,” Valentine says to his pitchers, advising them on how to field grounders as he leaves for the next field.
Valentine walks toward a group of players, including new Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach, who are meeting in an outfield corner. Rather than interrupt, Valentine circles around them, hands behind his back, listening.
People will compare Valentine with Francona, but Francona was less mobile due to bad knees. He also had a different, more laissez-faire style.
But then, no manager is quite like Valentine.
At one point he advises a coach to maintain the pace of the workout, saying, “Keep it going. Talk quick.” At another point, he tells a group of pitchers including Josh Beckett, “Simulate something other than taking a bath or shower, petting your dog.”
“Very nice!” is one of Valentine’s favorite phrases. “Super!” he also will say, clapping his hands. “Just like you do it in a game.”
“We’re getting it,” he says to no one in particular. “We’re getting it.”
As Valentine moves between fields, he engages in rapid banter with fans, one of whom observes of the workout, “Better organized than in other years.”
Another fan yells, “Go Stamford!” referring to Valentine’s hometown of Stamford, Conn.
“Mario Decarlo. You know him?” Valentine replies. “He just texted me.”
For the most part, everything is upbeat — relentlessly upbeat. But then Valentine is displeased by the way Albers tosses the ball home in a drill.
“Your body will take it there — and that’s a lot of body to get it there, too,” Valentine cracks.
A short while later, Valentine is back on point as he turns to an elderly security guard, practically gushing over his new team.
“What a group of athletes!” the manager says. “Are you impressed? Dang, I’m impressed.”
Pitching fundamental practice is over, and now the pitchers — Red Sox pitchers, American League pitchers — are in the batting cage, practicing slash bunts.
Hitters use lose slash bunts when the defense charges, expecting a bunt. The hitter shows bunt, pulls back the bat and attempts to hit the ball on the ground.
Interleague play is months away. No Sox pitcher is likely to hit in a game before then.
What the heck is Bobby V. thinking?
He explains later, reflecting back to the second inning of Game 6 of the World Series, when the Cardinals executed the wheel play and Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis bunted into a double play.
“I felt the American League lost the world championship because they didn’t have a slash play,” Valentine says.
“When there were men on first and second in Game 6 and the Cardinals put the wheel play on and (Lewis) was standing in the batter’s box and the bunt went foul . . .
“If that was a slash — they call off the wheel play. They (bunt) one guy over, it becomes second and third and the Rangers are world champions. I think these guys (the Red Sox) want to be the world champions.”
Valentine says he does not intend for his pitchers to practice slash bunts all spring — they will work on the play early in camp, then take sporadic refresher courses throughout the spring and again before interleague play.
The risk, of course, is that a pitcher will get injured. The reward, as Valentine notes, could be a World Series victory.
Valentine finally grabs a bottle of water. The workout is over.
“Have your pen ready!” he says to an autograph seeker. “There are fundamentals on the field. And there are fundamentals of getting an autograph.”
Throughout the morning, Valentine had promised fans he would sign every last autograph as soon as the workout was complete.
Now fans line up behind fences along both sides of a path connecting two fields. Valentine methodically works his way down the left side when a woman on the right screams, “Yo!” trying to get his attention.
“As long as you said, ‘Yo,” then I’ll get there,” Valentine says, smiling. “That was the key. If I didn’t hear, ‘Yo,’ I probably never would have done it.”
He adds, “It wasn’t just, ‘Yo,’ it was, ‘Yo, coach.”
Managers hate being called, “Coach.”
Valentine accommodates every fan, even poses for photos, in a span of less than 15 minutes. He heads inside to meet with his coaches, then back outside to meet with the media at 2:30. The session lasts 30 minutes.
And this is just Day One.
Day One of a six-week spring training, six-month regular season and, if the Sox achieve all that they envision, a four-week postseason, too.
Valentine will relish every second.
He waited nearly a decade to get back to managing a major-league team.