He is looking for the funeral home amid the commercial chaos along Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte, Fla. He remembers that there's a blue sign in front of the building next door to the funeral home. Where is it? There seems to be a sea of blue signs. Bobby Valentine can't find the right one.
"Is this it?" the manager of the Texas Rangers asks. "What's that sign say? Nope. Not the one."
The time is perilously close to eight o'clock on a Friday morning. He is going to Mass at the funeral home. No one has died, at least no one he knows. He simply is going to Mass. This is a part of his spring training day. Not the start, because he already has ridden an exercise bicycle for half an hour, posed for a portrait in the Rangers' dugout and showered. He is a man who likes to explode into the day. Where is that funeral home? Eight o'clock Mass.
"I started going to Mass last year during spring training," he says. "It was Lent. I decided to go one day, and I went...and I liked it. That's all. I liked it. I went back, and I'm doing it again this year."
He discovered the funeral home Masses in the yellow pages. He had been going every day to St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church when he heard about Masses held at a funeral home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. He now goes to the church on the other days and to the Roberson Funeral Home—yes, here is the sign—on the yellow pages days.
The chapel is filled with old-timers, Florida retirees. Valentine moves into the middle of them, looking so much younger. He is 41 years old, with a touch of Frankie Avalon to him. The hair. The nice looks. A bounce. He seems filled with a kinetic energy, his motor running at a fast idle. During the service the old-timers go through the practiced movements of a Catholic lifetime, standing, kneeling, sitting. Valentine moves with an aerobic determination. Stand. Kneel. Sit.
He seems so alive, so different....
He shakes the hands of the older people around him at one point in the Mass. He nods. The people nod in return. There is at least one obvious common bond. He is a survivor among survivors.
"If I had the same record in New York that I have here," he says, "I'd have been fired after my third year managing. People get fired in this business, and situations fire people. I would have been fired after my third year in New York."
He now is moving into his eighth season as manager of the Rangers. Charging hard. Making the people who like him smile. Making the people who don't like him call him the worst of possible names. When he started with the Rangers, hired on May 16, 1985, three days after his 35th birthday, he was the youngest manager in big league baseball. He still is young but is already poised on the edge of a record for longevity. Only one man in the history of baseball has managed a single team for more games while never winning a division title, a pennant or a World Series. Pinky Higgins of the Boston Red Sox (1,119 games, 1955-62) holds the record that Valentine, now at 1,100, will break on April 14—barring rainouts. Forty-one years old. Already the alltime survivor.