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Valentine is happy inside

He's now a part of Sox-Yankees

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 14, 2012
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TAMPA - Bobby Valentine grew up a short drive from Yankee Stadium and has spent about 40 years of his life involved in professional baseball as a player, coach, and manager. But until this season, his view of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was only from the outside.

That changed when the Red Sox named him manager in November. Now Valentine has a leading role in baseball’s greatest passion play.

That he cherishes the opportunity was evident Tuesday when Valentine stood in the visitors’ dugout at Steinbrenner Field and entertained questions from a large group of reporters for 20 minutes.

All but a few centered on his being part of the Boston-New York rivalry.

“I think the intensity will be interesting. Looking forward to it? Who knows?’’ Valentine said before the first of two spring training games between the teams. “It’s a big part of it; it’s more than 10 percent of our season. It’s important for sure.’’

During his two years with ESPN, Valentine saw the rivalry up close and felt the fever.

“It’ll be more than I expect and probably some of what I’ve felt from the outside,’’ he said. “I’ve been in both Joe Girardi’s office and Tito [Francona’s] office during the rivalry. I’ve seen their faces; I’ve heard their voices. So I get that.

“I’ve seen the fans. I’ve read the newspaper. I’ve heard the talk shows and the TV casts and I’m looking forward to it. Until you experience it, you can’t say you know what it’s going to be. I’m looking forward to it.’’

Girardi often tries to downplay the rivalry, a lesson learned from his predecessor, Joe Torre. Francona did the same thing. But Valentine won’t try that ruse.

“Spectacular,’’ he all but shouted when asked what he thought of the games between the teams. “I thought it was exactly what baseball was supposed to be. It’s baseball at its finest.’’

Yes, Valentine acknowledged, the 18 games each season do not count more than any others. But he plans to revel in the competition while it’s going on.

“If I enjoy it a little more than playing a team in the Western Division, I don’t think I can be faulted for that, if I look forward to it a little more,’’ he said. “That’s just me.’’

Valentine enjoys being the center of attention, a trait that served him well when he managed the Mets until his relationship with the team soured after seven years. But he doesn’t believe his personality, big as it is, will change the dynamic between the teams that much.

“I don’t think so,’’ Valentine said. “This rivalry, the players are special players on both teams. Twenty years from now, there’s going to be a list of players who are going to play in this rivalry this year who are going to be remembered by fandoms on both sides and by historians of baseball across the world. This is their rivalry and it’s going to be exciting. They allowed me to be part of it.’’

Girardi is not so sure of that. He said Valentine “probably’’ would spice things up between the teams. He already has, joking about the Yankees during the winter meetings and several times during spring training.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a different flavor because it’s a different manager,’’ Girardi said. “I’m sure people felt it was different when I came than when Joe was here because I’m a different human being. I don’t know what kind of spice it’s going to add, but we’re going to find out.

“I’ve never managed against Bobby Valentine. I’m sure there’s going to be things that are different. The one thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot is the players in the game, and their talents haven’t changed. He might do some different things with them. We’ll get a chance to see during the course of the year.’’

Valentine had approximately 25 reporters around him before the game, along with four television cameras. Girardi’s session attracted about a third of that. Valentine joked that because he worked in television, he was trying to make the media’s job easier.

“I’m just here to please,’’ he said.

But there could be a practical application to Valentine’s media skills. When times are tough, he can deflect attention from the players and handle the heat.

“I think once in a while you can cast an umbrella over the pouring rain,’’ he said.

Spring training has been sunny skies in every way so far. No umbrellas needed.

“I’ve enjoyed every second of it. There’s nothing more or less,’’ Valentine said. “I’ve been there early. I’ve been learning everyone’s name. I’ve been trying to evaluate everyone’s skills. I’ve been trying to put together different things every day. I enjoy all that stuff. It’s been great work.

“It’s the middle of March. Nothing’s even started yet. Haven’t even had a fight yet; haven’t had a bad situation; haven’t had a joyous situation yet.’’

Those days are coming. Then the true nature of Valentine’s presence will be revealed.

“I personally think Bobby will be good for them,’’ Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. “He’ll change it up over there a little and change the story from what happened last year. If you ask me, they’re a dangerous team more than ever.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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