TAMPA, Fla. — Bobby Valentine smiled his big, wide smile, surrounded by media, talking about the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Baseball’s hottest rivalry gets a new provocateur this year.
“The intensity will be interesting. Looking forward to it? Who knows?” he said.
Valentine stood in the third base dugout at Steinbrenner Field before Tuesday night’s exhibition game between his Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the first of two meaningless spring training meetings that serve as an appetizer for the 18 bitter, tense and often lengthy games during the regular season.
Left hand in his pants pocket, right hand twirling sunglasses, he spoke of succeeding Terry Francona after Boston’s September collapse, of managing against the Yankees during his days with the Mets, of watching the teams meet during his time as a television analyst.
“It will be more than I expect and probably some of what I felt from the outside,” he said. “I’ve been in both Joe Girardi’s office and Tito’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 newspapers. I’ve heard the talk shows and the TV casts, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Later, Tuesday night, Ivan Nova allowed two hits over four scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 1-0 loss to the Red Sox.
Nova, a 16-game winner in his rookie season last year, had given up seven runs over 4 2-3 innings in his two previous spring training starts.
Jacoby Ellsbury hit a first-inning double and Dustin Pedroia had a single in the fourth off Nova. Alex Rodriguez singled for one of the Yankees’ two hits off Felix Doubront, who threw four shutout innings.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who has strongly hinted that 2012 could be his final season, pitched his second straight scoreless inning this spring. He struck out one and broke a pair of bats during a 13-pitch outing.
Before the game and a day after his wave heard round spring training — Valentine bid “goodbye” to Ozzie Guillen after the Miami manager was ejected, prompting Guillen to say he would have responded with a profanity had he seen it — Valentine was his eloquent, charming, playful self. The teams meet again March 22 at Fort Myers, then play for real April 20 at Boston to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park,
“Baseball at its finest,” Valentine said. “I remember the Subway Series, when the commissioner came in and he said this is the showcase of showcases; this is New York against New York playing baseball on our finest stage. And I think of that every time the Yankees and the Red Sox play. So it’s an honor.”
Valentine and Girardi played down their roles, emphasizing the players.
“When Yogi played, or it moved on to Mickey, or when I played with Bernie, it’s always been a great rivalry,” Girardi said.
Yogi Berra and Bernie Williams have been at spring training, and fans still wear Mickey Mantle’s No. 7 jersey, so there is a constant sense of history in Yankees camp. Valentine, too, is conscious of the import of games between the teams, even realizing the strain every 4-hour-plus night placed upon Francona, Girardi and former Yankees manager Joe Torre.
“I remember Joe complaining about it,” Valentine said, “the first Joe, Joe I. And Joe II also I’ve heard has complained, so it’s probably something that wears on you. It’s got to be on you. You play 162 games and these 18 they say are one-plus — 162 wears everyone out, so now you have one-plus to add to it.”
Every matchup is built into a potential huge momentum swing. The managers try to insulate their players from the hype.
“I understand the mentality that it is just one game in the standings. I understand that totally and I think that attitude filters down and that has to be my attitude,” Valentine said. “But if I enjoy it a little more than playing” — he paused and stopped himself from mentioning any specific opponent — “a team in the Western Division, then I don’t think I could be faulted for that if I looked forward to it a little more.”
Second baseman Pedroia already has noticed the changes at spring training, differences from the Francona years.
“We’ve been doing a lot more bunting, a little more running, some more hit and runs,” he said. “With Tito, he’s a big believer in just go out there and you’ve got a feel for the game.”
And then there is the switch in style with Bobby V.
“He talks a lot during the game,” the 2008 AL MVP said. “Talking what they’re playing out defensively, watching every pitch, kind of thinking the game out loud. He’s very intelligent, the way he thinks situations.”
Now 61 and his hair white, Valentine seems to have tempered himself from his days managing Texas and the Mets. Remember the time he was ejected in 1999, then returned to the dugout wearing sunglasses and a fake mustache? But he lived up to his nickname “Bobby Top Step,” watching the early innings from the highest step in the dugout, closest to home plate, leaning over the rail.
He’s ready for all the stresses of his newest rivalry.
“The biggest burden from what I gather is trying to give your friends tickets,” he said. “It really is. I hear that people have to turn away their relatives, and that’s a lousy way of going about a day’s work.”
NOTES: Boston RHP Clay Buchholz pitched four innings in a minor league intrasquad game at Fort Myers. He allowed five hits, struck out three and walked one, throwing 33 of 59 pitches for strikes. … Red Sox LHP Andrew Miller, coming back from a stiff elbow, threw batting practice and is slated for a game Friday. … Yankees INF Eduardo Nunez was in the starting lineup but was scratched because of soreness in his right hand, where he was hit last week.