Commentary

On Day 1, Bobby sets the pace

New Sox manager never stops moving as he pounces on every teachable moment

Updated: February 22, 2012, 9:50 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Here's a way to simulate how Bobby Valentine spent his day Tuesday.

First, walk out of your house. Cross the street to your neighbor's house and tell him what work needs to be done to fix his roof. Take no more than five minutes to do so. Now go to the house next door, tell those neighbors how to grout the tiles of their patio -- in three minutes or less -- then walk back briskly across the street to the house next door to yours, tell that neighbor the best way to paint his porch -- four minutes should do -- then come back to your house, inspect the cracks in your driveway and instruct workers how to patch them.

Now make the same trip over and over again for the next two hours, never stopping to sit, never taking a drink of water, barking out instructions and encouragement nonstop -- in more than one language, if you can -- barely slowing down to acknowledge anyone who might want to interfere with the work at hand.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireBobby Valentine didn't stand still for long on Day 1 of on-field activities at JetBlue Park.

And when it's over, swing by to exchange greetings with the snowbirds and school vacationers who have gathered to watch, and leave with a smile.

"I couldn't keep up with him,'' Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said when it was over.

This was the first day of workouts for Red Sox pitchers and catchers, and Valentine was the pace car at Indy. Players barely had time to fasten their seat belts before Valentine started his on-field, strictly-business meeting at 9:29 a.m., a minute before schedule, with a brisk, "Good morning. New faces. New year," and broke it up at 9:41 a.m. with a simple command: "Let's get to work."

And work they did. Valentine did not reinvent the wheel, as pitcher Daniel Bard noted, but for the next two hours the manager was in perpetual motion, doing laps among the four fields on which his players were engaged in familiar drills but at a clip foreign to many of them.

The first indication that we've never seen anything quite like this came shortly after 10 a.m. on Field No. 6, the Johnny Pesky Field, where Valentine grabbed a glove, cut into line where pitchers were playing long toss with each other and began flinging a ball back and forth with Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"[It was] my first time playing catch with my manager since becoming a professional," Matsuzaka would say later through interpreter Jeff Cutler, "so I was very nervous at the beginning,"

Valentine stood in the batter's box of the bullpen without a bat while a nonroster pitcher named Chorye Spoone threw a breaking ball. He flipped balls to minor-league coach Goose Gregson while Gregson hit comebackers. He gave instructions in Japanese to pitcher Junichi Tazawa.

"Aren't they looking good?" he said to security man John Sinclair as he strode past on his way to the next field. "A good-looking group of athletes."

Valentine didn't wait for a response. "I hope he's getting paid by the mile,'' Sinclair said, "because he's all over the place."

He autographed a child's baseball without slowing a step. He pulled out a flipcam and stood behind home plate, filming one exercise. He replaced divots in the infield grass. And, after the last session of the day, a round of batting practice for the catchers, he helped them pick up baseballs scattered between the plate and the mound. That was almost right at noon.

"He's a different kind of guy," Bard would say later. "I haven't met a manager that thinks quite like him or interacts with his players quite like he does. I like it. He knows everybody's name here, it's pretty unbelievable.

"He mentioned in our meeting today that our pitching 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 [pitchers' fielding practice]. We're not just going through the motions, because he makes you really focus on doing things right.

"It's good," he added. "For some guys, it's going to take some getting used to, but I think they're good adjustments."

One way to quell a potential revolt? Take your most entitled pitchers, the ones accustomed to doing everything together, and put them in different groups. Josh Beckett was in one group, Jon Lester in another, Clay Buchholz in a third. That was the doing of pitching coach Bob McClure, Valentine insisted, but in light of last fall's much-discussed flouting of discipline, Valentine's fingerprints were all over this one.

Much of the time, Valentine kept his hands in the pockets of his short-sleeved, batting-practice pullover, the same kind that former manager Terry Francona wore. But stay in one spot for more than a moment? Not without the Ritalin.

Throughout the morning, Valentine kept up a stream of commentary, most of it teaching in nature, mixed in with the occasional zinger.

"Refine it,'' he said to catcher Ryan Lavarnway through the bullpen fence.

"Hurry it up,'' he said to one coach hitting comebackers. "They're going to cheat, you cheat.

"Aaahh, simulate stuff out there other than taking a bath or petting your dog,'' he said to one group.

"Quarter-rotation."

"Wow, that's almost perfect timing."

"It's a tightrope walk. Balance, balance, balance."

"Thumbs-down backhand. That's the way you make that play. I wish we could practice that all day."

He stood halfway between home and first while a group of pitchers worked on pickoffs.

"Left-handers, look like you're just pitching to me, a 45-foot pitch to me, then throw over there."

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
AP Photo/David GoldmanThe Red Sox manager got right in the batter's box to get a closer look at one of his pitchers.

He watched Andrew Bailey, the new closer, as he fielded bunts.

"They've got to squeeze on you, because they can't hit you," he said.

He observed another group charging squibbers in front of the mound and shoveling the ball home.

"Think about throwing with your elbow," he said. "Your body will take it there."

Dough-shaped reliever Matt Albers was next. "And that's a lot of body to get it there," he said to Albers.

"Keep your concentration, too," he said to a coach who fanned on a fungo swing.

He made a comment to Randy Niemann, the former pitcher and staff assistant, about the layout of the facility. The details were a blur, his conclusion anything but. "I could have saved John Henry a lot of money," he said.

Valentine's most pointed message came in the batting cages, where he had pitchers working on bunts and slashes -- where a pitcher shows bunt, then draws the bat back and swings away. An American League team working on pitchers' bunting? On Day 1?

"You know why we're doing this?" he said to pitcher Aaron Cook, a newcomer. "Because in Game 6 of the World Series, runners on first and second, no outs, Colby Lewis fouled off the first pitch for a bunt. Next pitch, he put down a perfect bunt, but the Cardinals were ready for it and turned a double play.

"Who won the game? The Cardinals. Who won the World Series? The Cardinals. That's all it takes, sometimes, one play."

Never mind that the play in question took place in the second inning of a 10-9 game that ended in 11. Lewis gets the bunt down, or is able to execute the slash play, maybe the Rangers break it open early and win in regulation. Bobby Valentine's team on its first day is going to practice a play that might make the difference in October.

"Nice day of work, boys," he said as they wrapped up their on-field work. "That's good work, boys. Good work. Very good."

But even then, Valentine wasn't done instructing. Returning to the field, he walked down a line of folks waiting for his autograph. He signed one child's baseball and said, "See, there are fundamentals of getting an autograph, too. We were working on fundamentals on the field. Now there are the fundamentals of getting an autograph."

One man asks, "Are you going to bring the mustache?" -- a reference to the Groucho Marx getup Valentine famously pulled out after being ejected from a game as Mets manager and returning to the dugout in disguise.

"Only in an emergency," Valentine said.

At 12:15 p.m., he signed his last autograph, then walked off the field with Tim Bogar, his new bench coach and the man he entrusted with designing and implementing his practice schedule. Inside the clubhouse, where TV screens displayed a video loop devised by video coordinator Billy Broadbent showing pitchers making snappy fielding plays, there would be a meeting with his pitchers. He'd met with half the staff the day before.

At 2:30, still in uniform, Valentine took his place on the bench at which a half-dozen or so TV cameras were aimed, reporters filling in the empty spaces. For close to half an hour, he answered questions.

It was after 4 o'clock, more than 12 hours after Valentine said he awakened thinking of this day. On the field at JetBlue Park, a crew was just wrapping up shooting a TV ad featuring Dustin Pedroia and a bunch of Little Leaguers. A couple of tour groups were still circulating, and reporters were writing their stories in the pressbox, but otherwise players had long gone and the parking lots were all but empty.

But if you had gone up to the top of the Green Monster here and looked over the other side, this is what you would have seen: Bobby Valentine, still in uniform, fielding softballs hit by Tim Bogar's kids. And telling them how to hit.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Tough Lesson
    The Bruins found out the hard way that the Red Wings won't go down easy.
  • Lacking Momentum
    The Orioles got to John Lackey early and often, and the Sox couldn't recover.
  • Why They'll Run
    Six people impacted by the bombings share what motivated them to enter.
  • Cloudy Vision
    Danny isn't sure what the C's will look like, but he thinks they'll be better.
  • Change Of Heart
    After initially balking at returning, Rita Jeptoo will defend her Boston title.

MORE MLB HEADLINES