TAMPA, Fla. – Bobby V being Bobby V, unsinkable by man or nature, the point at which the New York Yankees registered with him Tuesday would be a matter of conjecture.
He does, after all, have a ballclub to assemble and run. It is mid-March. This is neither the time nor place for grudges, old or new, even for him.
The bus rides here are so long you'd forget them anyway, simply lose them under the surface of one of those swampy ponds Florida is forever building chain-link fences around. Not being a resident and so unfamiliar with the rationale, I sometimes get to wondering about those fences, and if they're there to keep us out or whatever's in there in.
I wonder too about Bobby V, all that stuff he says, the fights he picks or won't let die or finishes himself, the self-satisfaction and the tears, the hard eyes over the warm smile, and then – in the matter of the Boston Red Sox – if he's the fence or the pond.
You know, is he keeping the bad stuff from crawling out and dragging our Avis mid-size into the pond?
Or is he the bad stuff?
Is he here to save the Red Sox, to relieve them of September, to vanquish the Yankees and restore dignity to a listing franchise?
Sorta depends on who you talk to.
Bobby Valentine has, for the moment, smaller things on his mind. Like learning the names of everyone who bats after the fifth inning. He needs to pick a shortstop, two starting pitchers, an opening day outfield and some bullpen parts.
He came to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday night three weeks into those processes, certainly far enough along to have a notion of how it may work out, but well short of actual decisions.
In the absence of that, he's amused himself by causing a tremor in the Yankee clubhouse (was or wasn't Derek Jeter "out of position" on his flip play a decade ago) and then the Miami Marlins' clubhouse (waving farewell to an ejected Ozzie Guillen on Monday).
Used to this sort of thing, the Yankees barely mustered a raised eyebrow. Ozzie, of course, is different.
Had he actually seen Valentine wave, Guillen said, "I would have told him to go [blank] himself," and, well, if that seems a tad touchy, you don't know Ozzie.
"Isn't that his standard comment on everything?" Bobby V asked. "Has he ever not said that about something?"
Besides, he said, it wasn't his intention to incite anything.
"It seems to be what it is," he said, as if these things, when they fall out of the sky, simply blow in his direction.
I mean, what's a guy to do?
By Tuesday night he'd take a training-wheels tour of Yankees-Red Sox, fully aware that these towns – and to some degree these teams – obsess over each other. And presumably aware that if the Red Sox are to win again, and if Bobby V is to truly win for the first time, it can only happen by stepping over a Yankee corpse.
Until the Red Sox play another regular-season game, however, they'll be backing away from September, the month that cost them a playoff spot, a general manager, a field manager and anything like composure. It's why Bobby V – the anti-Tito – is here, standing as he always has, his shoulders back, his chest out, his eyes front.
Maybe it lingers, like the knockout hit that forever leaves a quarterback jittery in the pocket.
Maybe it doesn't, and these are still the Red Sox that trucked the American League between April and September, now thirsty to restore their reputations.
Bobby V seems willing to let it be, to be neither oppressive nor indulgent. These are good players, he said, some of them great. This is a good team, potentially great. And he, for the moment, is along for the ride. They don't know him any more than he knows them, and that'll take time.
Until then, the men who wear the September stain scrub a little more from their uniforms every day.
"I don't think that was one of the major things I had to do," Bobby V said. "Time was going to change that conversation. It's not my conversation to deal with. I'll bet there is still some lingering effects in some people's minds."
Presumably, they're hoping April brings a new discourse.
"It'll help, I guess," he said. "But, believe it or not, April is going to be the main topic of conversation. And the September people will be talking about is September of 2012."
That'll require some work, especially if the Red Sox happen to thrash around this April as they did last, when they started the season 2-10.
This, of course, is still to be held to the light and dissected, as is the mood of a town betrayed, as is the man on the top step. It'll come in time, and they all know it.
Late afternoon here, Bobby V strolled out of the visitor's coaches' room and was swarmed by a couple dozen reporters. He shook a few hands, made some jokes, and was advised by the team publicist not to take questions until the Boston media was present.
That was when he knew for sure.
Yeah, New York. And the Yankees. It was almost time.
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