Bobby Valentine needs sand, 32 tons of it, a small Sahara for his long jump pit. "But not just any sand," says the new athletic director at Sacred Heart. "It has to be that blow-away sand that goes puff when you land in it." On puff, Valentine throws open his hands as if tossing confetti.
Which is what he's doing, more or less: Since starting the job on June 1, Valentine has been a human confetti cannon, raining enthusiasm on coaches, administrators and 6,400 surprised students on this compact campus in Fairfield, Conn. "Mr. Valentine!" stammers a freshman in the cafeteria of the Linda E. McMahon Commons. "I'm a Red Sox fan...."
"So am I!" says Valentine, 11 months removed from his rocky single season managing Boston. Now, he's staring at the Green Monster of a D-1 budget. "They gave me a blank canvas," says Bobby V, who oversees 31 sports. "But they didn't tell me I'd have to buy the watercolors." He fingers the $1,800 quote for his blow-away sand and says, "I gotta see if I can get them to donate this."
During his career managing the Rangers, Mets, Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines and then the Sox, Valentine occasionally addressed college students. But this is his first time in college since he nearly succeeded O.J. Simpson as USC's tailback 45 years ago. "I went there on a football recruiting trip, and the baseball team was playing and I sat in the bleachers for a couple of minutes," Valentine remembers. "Tommy Lasorda was there scouting for the Dodgers. Tommy came over, sat next to me, gave me a transistor radio with the Dodgers' logo on it and told me not to tell anyone where I got it."
Within two months Valentine, whom the Dodgers drafted with the fifth pick in 1968, was playing for Lasorda's minor league team in Ogden, Utah. He returned to USC in the fall as, he says, "a student nonathlete." After two years he transferred to Arizona State. The Dodgers radio, meanwhile, stayed on his mother's mantel for decades.
At 63, Valentine remains energized by young people. "I like doing," says the man who still runs a restaurant and a film production company, and does the Mets' postgame show and an NBC radio show. "I don't like watching. I don't like waiting. I'll never retire. I have places to go, people to be with, things to do."
As he commutes by bicycle from Stamford to Sacred Heart, 27.3 miles each way, motorists chat him up and hand him water. The other day a guy listening to Boomer & Carton, a New York City morning show, pulled up and said, "Bobby V! They're talking about you on the radio!" Valentine drafted along for a minute and listened in.
Indeed, when Valentine biked away from his condo near Fenway on the day he was fired last fall, a pair of reporters pursued him. "I told 'em, 'Fellas, I'll talk to you later, I gotta go on this bike ride,' " says Valentine, whose tour along the Charles River lasted six hours. When he returned, the two guys had become a crowd. And so he made his valedictory remarks to the Boston media from the seat of his bike—no dais, no backdrop of Dunkin' Donuts logos, just Bobby V in a bike helmet.
His favorite team now is the Sacred Heart Pioneers. The football team, last in the Northeast Conference last season, beat Marist in its opener last Saturday. "It's awesome having him around," says Nick Giaquinto, who played in two Super Bowls as a Redskins running back in the 1980s and has been the SHU baseball coach for 25 years. There's no diamond on campus—the Pioneers play their games six miles away in Bridgeport, do their conditioning on the softball field, and sometimes take BP at cages up the road.
And while they're not complaining, many coaches did line up outside Valentine's office this summer with their wish lists, including that proper puff-making sand. As Red Sox manager, Valentine barely had to worry about the Sandman. (Yankee closer Mariano Rivera missed most of last season with a torn ACL.) As AD, Valentine is obsessed with the sand man.