I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see
- “Amazing Grace’’
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It’s been two weeks in paradise watching Bobby Valentine and the “all new’’ Red Sox. I see the new drills and the subliminal video messages and the longer workouts and the smarter-than-everybody manager and I keep asking myself the same question . . .
How did the Red Sox win two World Series, average 93 wins per season, and make the playoffs five times when they were clearly such a chaotic, disorganized mess in spring training for the last eight years?
It’s amazing when you really think about it. All these years they could have been great and they settled for just plain pretty good. Fans ate hamburger when they could have been feasting on prime rib.
How could we all have been fooled? It’s pretty clear now that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona were doofuses. They didn’t know what they were doing. They just threw the bats, balls, and gloves on the field and told the fellows to “go get ’em.’’
It’s all different now, that’s for sure.
“Right from the get-go, we were doing situational things,’’ said veteran Kevin Youkilis. “Tito’s philosophy was we’re going to hit the ball, we’re going to run the bases well, and we’re not going to bunt that much. Bobby might be different . . . I think we’re going to be hitting a lot more of the fundamentals.’’
“He cares about the little things that can help you win the game,’’ Clay Buchholz said after one of the grueling early workouts.
“We’re not just going through the motions,’’ added Daniel Bard. “He’s really focused on doing things right.’’
Amen to that. This isn’t like the old days when the Sox always went through the motions during spring training.
Some of the differences are obvious. Bobby says no beer in the clubhouse. Tito said the no-suds edict was a public relations move. Bobby responded with his infamous, “You get paid over there [ESPN] for saying stuff. You get paid over here for doing stuff.’’
Then Bobby did something very un-Tito-like and publicly baited the Bronx Bombers. He talked about Jason Varitek “beating up’’ Alex Rodriguez. He said Derek Jeter was actually out of position when he made his famous relay play against Oakland 11 years ago. This resulted in the New York Post comparing Valentine with Rex Ryan on its back cover. Francona never would have put himself in that position.
Sox players are no longer allowed to drive themselves to spring training games. Everyone must take the bus. Francona not only allowed players to drive themselves around Florida, he allowed high-roller players to charter a plane and separate themselves from the jamokes on the bus.
Oh, and remember how Tito allowed Josh Beckett to have Varitek as his binkie? No more personal catchers.
“It’s not my choice or style,’’ said Valentine.
We’ve had some coaching contrasts in our region over the last quarter-century. One of the great switches was the transfer from Bill Fitch to K.C. Jones after the Celtics were swept out of the 1983 playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks. Red Auerbach said goodbye to taskmaster Fitch and welcomed family uncle K.C. back into the fold, and the Celtics responded with two championships in three seasons and four straight trips to the Finals. After years of goose stepping to Fitch, the Celtics were ready for K.C.’s soft shoe.
It didn’t work out as well for Bob Kraft when he lost Bill Parcells and hired Pete Carroll. Go back and look at some of the quotes from players when Carroll took over. They had new liberty. And they laid down on the job. The switch to Bill Belichick in 2000 was just what the team needed.
Now we have Bobby V reinventing baseball in Fort Myers. Bobby has the brainwash videos looping in the Sox clubhouse (one day it might be pitchers making routine fielding plays, another day it’ll be relays from the outfield). Bobby stands in the batter’s box when he wants to see how one of his pitchers is throwing. Bobby invited Jim Kaat (16 Gold Gloves) to instruct pitchers on pickoff moves (very Belichickian). Bobby wants Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford to increase their throwing strength.
Bobby has his coaches using real bats instead of fungo bats to replicate game-condition spin on the baseball. Sox pitchers no longer shag fly balls during batting practice.
My favorite Bobby-isn’t-Tito moment came in the middle of one of his early news conferences on the picnic table outside the Sox clubhouse. Francona’s pet peeve was cellphones going off in the middle of his pressers. Woe was the reporter or camera guy who forgot to turn off his phone before the start of the session.
So what happened when Bobby V got into it with us last week? His own phone went off! Valentine smiled, looked at his phone, told us his wife was calling, and pledged to get back to her later.
And you wonder why we all love this guy?