Valentine sets frenetic pace early in Sox camp
Boston players, GM, media marvel at skipper's non-stop attitude
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The constant motion starts the minute his team starts the morning workout and never really seems to stop. There is only one speed that new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has, and it can best be described as frenetic.
Go ahead and try to keep up with Valentine, whose zest for being back in uniform is literally there for everyone to see between the six practice fields that make up Boston's Spring Training facility.
"This guy is wearing me out," said an out-of-town writer, who has made the trek to Fort Myers to follow Valentine around for a day, or at least try to follow him.
Reporters and fans who have a hard time keeping pace with Valentine shouldn't feel so bad. His boss is going through the same thing.
"Yeah, I couldn't keep up with him," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "I saw a couple of [media members] trying. He eats and sleeps and breathes baseball, and spends every waking moment trying to think of ways to help players and help the team get better. I'm not surprised to see him so active. It's good to see. We're getting a lot done in a short amount of time, and it will be fun to see how his Spring Training evolves."
At least by what his bio says, Valentine will turn 62 in May. The gray hair and the birth certificate might back that up, but nothing else seems to.
"Bobby, he probably has the most energy of a man I've ever met in my life," said Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "He's around here talking to fans, having fun, and it looks like he just really enjoys the game of baseball. It's a lot of fun to have. We're excited to have him here."
Valentine isn't just overseeing what is going on around him. He is a full-on participant.
"He was out on the field, working with us on the infield, giving some pointers on what we need to do," Youkilis said. "He wasn't in our ear every single second -- it's just the little things that when you start doing your baseball activities a lot more, you have to go back to those little things which will help you do greater things down the road."
In one instant, Valentine might be working with Youkilis and the infielders.
In the next, you see him over at pitcher's fielding practice, bellowing "off the mound" as a slow roller approaches one of his players.
And don't be the least bit surprised if you watch a bullpen session involving one of Boston's pitchers, and Valentine is standing next to the plate, simulating a hitter.
If Josh Beckett or Jon Lester should inadvertently drill Valentine while he is "shadowing" in the box some day, they need not worry, because they won't be the first.
"I've been hit a couple times standing in there. I've gotten out of the way, too," Valentine said.
Why does Valentine simulate a hitter some 33 years since he last played a game in the Major Leagues?
"I was one of those that when I played -- which was only 65 years ago or something like that -- I was the guy that would tell the other guys what to look for," Valentine said. "Things kind of jump out. I just like to look at that in the beginning and I understand angles. I like to see how pitches are moving."
During one workout this week, Valentine was playing catch with Daisuke Matsuzaka, which isn't something you typically see a manager do. Well, at least managers who don't answer to the name of Bobby Valentine.
Matsuzaka confirmed that it was the first time he had ever played catch with a manager in his time as a pro, and the pitcher admitted, that, yes, he was a little nervous.
"That I was going to miss?" Valentine said knowingly.
One thing you quickly learn after a few days of being around Valentine is that he has a reason for just about everything he does.
"When I played catch [with Matsuzaka], it was so the interpreter could go down with [coach] Randy Niemann, who was working on his mechanics, to make sure that from Day 1 that what Randy was looking for him to do was being communicated and executed," Valentine said. "If there was somebody else there to catch, I would have [preferred] that somebody else catch."
And what about the flip cams that Valentine and his coaches are roaming around with during camp?
"We're just going to see if we're planning our work and we're working our plan," Valentine said. "Specifically, some of the stuff I guess was for timing. If we were to practice something, I'd like to have it as close to game-real as possible; otherwise, why bother?
"So, we're looking at timing, like when the ball is coming off the bat and where the pitcher is in his throwing motion to simulate where he will be in a game. I'm not sure what other little things. We had some moves that we have cataloged just to see it and see it again, see it in slow motion if we want, just get it on camera."
If Valentine has a style unto its own, it is one that helped lead his Chiba Lotte Marines to a championship in Japan and the Mets to the National League Championship Series and the World Series in consecutive seasons.
"He's smart. He's creative. He's energetic," said White Sox rookie manager Robin Ventura, who played for Valentine in New York. "He has all those things. He has the right intentions. People look at it and he might do crazy things, but he's right in a lot of his philosophies and the way he goes about it. I was an admirer of his just playing for him and seeing how he went about things. He does it the right way."
And for the Red Sox, desperately trying to recover from the indignity of what occurred last September, this might be the perfect time to grasp all that Valentine has to offer.
"He's a different kind of guy," said Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard. "I haven't met a manager who thinks quite like him or interacts with his players quite like he does."
It's become obvious right out of the gate that "sugarcoat" isn't part of Valentine's vocabulary.
"He mentioned in our first meeting [earlier this week] that our fielding staff was the worst-fielding pitching staff in the Major Leagues last year, so we're going to get a lot of reps and PFPs," Bard said. "They're not just going through the motions. He makes you focus on doing things right. It's good. Some guys, it's going to take some getting used to, but I think they're good adjustments."
Valentine sort of shrugs off the notion that he's going above and beyond with his constant motion during camp.
"I'm just coaching," Valentine said. "I coach the coaches early, and then I see if the coaches are doing it and the players are doing it. It's the idea of inspecting what you expect. If you expect something to happen and you're not looking to see if it happened, the next day when you try to build on it, you don't have the foundation. It's no big deal."
But if the Red Sox can be the last team standing this season, Valentine's methods will be considered a very big deal.
"From what I hear, he's thinking about baseball non-stop," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "And thinking about fundamentals and trying to get this team where it needs to be, so it's going to be exciting."