FORT MYERS, Fla. - Bobby Valentine hasn’t managed since 2009 (in Japan) and hasn’t managed in the majors since 2002. In the last couple of days, as he has walked around the new JetBlue Park facility, he has realized how much he missed it.
He has made the rounds, bat in hand, wearing a Red Sox T-shirt and shorts, going field by field, player by player, coach by coach in what likely will be a few days or weeks of meet and greet as he learns the lay of the land, the new manager in an organization that has changed much of its hierarchy.
He already has gone over how spring training will be run with his coaching staff, especially bench coach Tim Bogar, who will implement the plan.
Whether it will be tougher or slower than Terry Francona’s camp, Valentine says he has no idea, though he gave a glimpse when he said, “When I look at the program, I don’t think it’s tough but it seems like it’s different because a lot of people are frowning.
“I just ask them to give it a few days. We all know that nobody likes change except for those who are making other people change to do what they want them to do.
“I happen to be one of those people who like change because I’m doing what I want them to do. I would bet there are 100 guys who won’t really like it because it’s change for them.’’
He was impressed that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester came into camp early and that Clay Buchholz arrived yesterday.
He spoke about competition within a team and said he doesn’t remember ever having a team that was completely set from the moment it stepped on the field in spring training.
And this team will be no different.
He will start the season with left fielder Carl Crawford on the bench recovering from wrist surgery. That will create corner outfield competition.
He is eager to get a look at the guys who will be competing for the shortstop position: Nick Punto, Mike Aviles, and rookie Jose Iglesias.
“When I see them, I’m sure we’ll find the right people to do the job,’’ he said.
Asked whether Iglesias could be part of the mix, he said, “I’ve never seen him. I have no idea.’’
Asked if defense is more important than offense at shortstop, Valentine answered, “No, I like complete players and complete teams.’’
He wants to schedule more “B’’ games - he is looking for two before March 15 - but has found some resistance because, he said, “There’s a lot of lazy people in the game today.’’
Valentine doesn’t think spring training is too long, because pitchers simply don’t get the proper number of innings in. Which is why he brought up the scenario of a relief pitcher who might pitch nine sparkling innings in camp but won’t be guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster. He emphasized bullpens because “bullpens win you pennants.’’
Valentine agreed with the concept that spring training, at some point, should simulate the regular season with more night games and players staying in the lineup for nine innings. But he is not here to change the baseball culture, just to prepare his squad for the season.
And with all of the competition in camp, he said, there are no guarantees that all of the questions will be answered when the bell rings.
He would love an infusion of younger talent but warns, “You can’t force it.’’ He thinks Ryan Lavarnway and Iglesias have a chance to be impact players with good camps.
“It seems there could be some young guys who open some eyes,’’ he said.
Valentine said something very interesting about a young player’s body language being a tipoff when judging whether they’re ready for the big leagues.
“Sometimes how a guy walks through the clubhouse - you look at it, you can figure it out, you can almost see it,’’ he said. “I don’t mean once. But by March 20 or so, whether he thinks he belongs or the guys around him think he belongs, that’s a part of it. You can see it.
“Philosophically, every organization would love to have a sprinkling of young players every year. What’s perfect for us and our future would be that every year we would have guys coming in either replacing a very established player or replacing someone who was not up to par the year before.
“To those 160 kids who are going to be competing [in the minors], the hope is that they’re going to be one of the two or three guys who will get the opportunity.’’
And so, with bat in hand, the Bobby V Era in Boston is beginning. It will be different, starting with his spring camp. And the Red Sox need to be different from a year ago, when the baseball world thought they were a 100-win team.
There are no such illusions now. In some ways, they are the underdog, a role Valentine relishes.
He wants a team that will emerge and play well at crunch time, not one that will collapse like the 2011 team.
Many of those players are back, and Valentine will be easing them into a new culture of baseball.