Valentine's ride with Red Sox not without bumps
By Hal Bodley | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 03/26/12 8:06 PM ET
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine's Spring Training shakedown cruise with the Boston Red Sox has been more difficult than the new skipper ever dreamed.
Oh, this is not about putting September's historic collapse behind, or even doing damage control on media reports there's a rift between him and general manager Ben Cherington on whether Daniel Bard should start or relieve, or if Jose Iglesias should be the starting shortstop.
It's a lot more comfortable gazing down from the ESPN broadcast booth than trudging through the grueling ritual that is present-day Spring Training.
Valentine is shocked at what he and the players have to go through to prepare for the season. He doesn't ever remember it being this way when he managed the Texas Rangers (1985-92) or the New York Mets (1996-2002).
I asked him Monday, before his Red Sox blanked the Phillies, 6-0, what his biggest adjustment has been since leaving his ESPN job to manage Boston. "It's much more disjointed than I ever expected," he said. "You never have your team together. If we didn't get our work done the first two weeks there would have been no chance working together as a team. I didn't know that."
Bobby V, always entertaining, always informative and provocative, was on a roll now.
"I didn't prepare Spring Training because of this ridiculous schedule," he said. "I prepared it the way I thought it should be prepared. If Tim [Boger, bench coach] hadn't scheduled every day's rigorous practice [the first two weeks], we'd be looking to see when this team could get together to practice."
What Valentine probably didn't realize is how much Spring Training has changed in the last decade. It's big business.
"It's challenging, to say the least," he said. "I don't ever remember it being like this -- split-squad games after a night game, asking your players to play in those three games, then travel two and a half hours to play a game on the road the next day."
Before rosters are reduced as Opening Day nears, teams are often split with a certain number of players at home and another half on the road, i.e. two games. Teams are required to have some veteran players on each squad.
So, in most cases half of the starting lineup may be on one team and the other half away on the other.
By doing this teams are able to schedule more home games during the spring.
But preparing for a new season has never been more important for the Red Sox. After a disastrous 7-20 finish that cost them the American League Wild Card, it's imperative they get off to a good start in 2012.
That could heal many of the wounds.
When Spring Training opened at Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-February, that was the predominant theme -- if not the dark cloud -- hovering over camp.
Since then the constant questions and references have dissipated.
But should the Red Sox stumble out of the gate, the comparisons to the September meltdown will be enormous.
"Within the team there's been some dialogue," Valentine said. "I haven't addressed it myself, but I think the team has dealt with it. Everyone got here a week early, and it wasn't just for show or to get suntans.
"They did all the drills and worked hard, making road trips without complaining. They've done everything they can do to be as professional as possible. They know what they have to do."
One thing is certain about Valentine: When it comes to the Red Sox he will be front and center. When there's controversy, he'll most likely be able to be the center of attention.
Monday, before Jon Lester fanned 10 Phillies and allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings, Valentine refused to be drawn into the Bard controversy or whether young Iglesias is ready to be the team's starting shortstop.
There have been hints Valentine wants Bard to remain a setup man in the bullpen, rather than transition to a starting role.
The Boston Globe suggested there's a growing rift between Cherington and Valentine.
"I think it's lazy journalism, if you want to know," Valentine said. "It's an easy story to write, that has no validity to it. I could have written it on Dec. 3. Are you kidding me?"
Valentine compares his relationship with Cherington to the one he had with Rangers GM Tom Grieve.
He said he has open dialogue with Cherington, that they speak at least twice daily and are constantly discussing how the roster can be formulated.
"The way Ben has done the cut meetings [when the status of players is determine] is that he's gone around and come to me last," Valentine said. "Everybody can say anything they want. I like opinions -- I want the opinions and so does Ben."
He added: "I try to keep my opinions close to the vest. I don't know if anybody knows totally what I'm thinking. In between those cut meetings, I try to pick brains. I think I have a better idea what the coaches are thinking about players than they know what I think."
Valentine summed it up this way: "I don't want to leave any imprint on this club. I hope the club has an imprint on me. It will look a lot nicer that way. I'm just a provider. If there's a need, I'll try to provide it."
That's a nice thought, but no matter how hard he tries, there's no chance Bobby Valentine won't leave a huge imprint on the Red Sox.