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It's a whole new whirl for Valentine

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 8, 2011
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DALLAS - Bobby Valentine was sitting in a library in Tokyo Nov. 29 when he got the call that the Red Sox wanted him as their next manager.

His life has been one of constant movement since, each day a new adventure.

Valentine has passed through 14 time zones in the last nine days, going from Japan to New York then up to Boston to formally accept his new job. A quick trip to the Dominican Republic followed, before he returned home to Connecticut to repack his suitcase for a trip to Texas and the winter meetings.

“I’m fuzzy,’’ Valentine said yesterday. “But I think it’s that thing called jet lag. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and I want to go exercise.’’

But there are moments of clarity that will endear him to Red Sox fans.

When asked about the rivalry with the Yankees, Valentine cut off the reporter and smiled. He had the right answer waiting.

“I hate the Yankees,’’ he said. “I don’t want to waste this valuable time talking about the Yankees. This is too valuable, it really is. I told [Yankees manager] Joe Girardi I used to love them and now I hate them.’’

Everybody laughed.

Valentine has been the Justin Bieber of the winter meetings, his presence causing crowds to gather and snap photographs with their cellphones. He has found Red Sox fans waiting to shake his hand and wish him well around every corner.

“It has been great,’’ said Valentine, who is reveling in being back inside the game after working two years for ESPN. “People have been incredibly nice.’’

Major League Baseball’s annual luncheon for managers and journalists was a hot ticket. There were nine seats available at Valentine’s table, not enough to accommodate all those who traveled from the Boston area. Two outlets solved the problem by having their reporters sit in shifts so they could get time with Valentine.

The session was off the record, and Valentine spent the time telling stories about his playing career, pausing only occasionally for a bite of baked chicken.

Valentine’s open press conference drew 14 television cameras as a large crowd gathered around him.

He talked in generalities about the Red Sox, saying he needed more time to get to know the players. He has spoken to all but a handful already, even the reclusive Josh Beckett.

The righthander, who has ducked questions about his clubhouse misbehavior during the team’s September collapse, didn’t like it when Valentine criticized him on the air for working slowly on the mound. That topic came up right away when Valentine called.

“I did reach out to Josh, and he didn’t want me to say anything, so I’m not going to say anything other than after he got through telling me how pissed off he was, we had a really good conversation,’’ Valentine said.

Valentine said part of his message to the players has been the need to accept responsibility for matters like physical conditioning.

“It seems like they let it get away or some of the guys let it get away. I think they understand that,’’ he said. “After talking to some of them on the phone and leaving other messages, I’m sure that if they didn’t agree with the message or didn’t agree with the conversation, they would say, ‘Everything was perfect and we’re just going to do it again the same thing.’ I don’t think anyone thinks that’s the way it’s going to happen.’’

Valentine, who answered one question in Japanese, went over his allotted 30 minutes, and a member of Major League Baseball’s public relations staff had to stop him because Girardi was waiting.

They should have let Girardi wait; he needed only 21 minutes.

“Bobby’s a guy that knows how to manage and I think he’s going to add a lot,’’ Girardi said. “Bobby adds some spunk to his clubs, there’s no doubt about it. I didn’t get to witness him first-hand a lot, but Bobby’s been successful wherever he’s [gone]. It should be exciting.’’

Valentine is eager for a few days of rest but is drawing energy from the challenge of learning a new organization.

“I feel like in the last two weeks my life has been in such a whirlwind, a wonderful pace that I count my blessing,’’ he said. “I’m saying, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’ It’s been really neat.’’

There is business to attend to, and much of Valentine’s time has been spent with general manager Ben Cherington and his staff, going through scouting reports and discussing players available via trade or free agency.

“There’s been a lot of inclusion, and I’ve been one of the guys that has been included in the conversation,’’ said Valentine. “That’s right where I want to be. It’s been very structured and very educational.’’

The pensive Cherington cracked a smile when asked about his first few days of working with Valentine.

“It’s been great,’’ said Cherington. “He’s obviously a smart baseball guy. Even though he hasn’t been managing, he’s been watching a lot of games with his job at ESPN. He has a pretty good idea of the landscape.

A week in, the Cherington-Valentine partnership has been smooth.

“I think we complement each other,’’ said Cherington. “We’re different personalities. We’re still getting to know each other, but it’s been good. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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