DALLAS — Sliding into the seat Bobby Valentine just vacated in the winter meetings media room, Yankees manager Joe Girardi wasn't taking any chances, quickly discarding the plastic bottle left behind.
"That was Bobby's water," Girardi cracked. "I don't know what he put in it."
Valentine's hiring to take over a Red Sox team stained by a late-season collapse and offseason controversy will markedly make life in the American League East more interesting for the Yankees, for the Rays, and for anyone else within earshot.
Asked during his Wednesday interview session to talk about the rivalry with the Yankees, Valentine replied, with a grin:
"No, I hate the Yankees. I don't want to waste this valuable time talking about the Yankees. This is too valuable. I told Joe Girardi I used to love them, but now I hate them."
He spoke in much nicer terms about the Rays, who, of course, caused much of the Boston implosion by beating them out on the last day of the season for the AL wild-card spot — leading to Valentine eventually making the move from ESPN's booth to the Sox dugout.
Valentine said he considered the Rays a challenge — "a real challenge" — then heaped on more praise.
"From afar, I've been in awe of the job they've done. I've admired the work of Joe Maddon and his team," Valentine said.
"If I was a broadcaster answering that question, I would say that everyone would rather have an expert team than have a team of experts. And I think that they strive to have an expert team and have succeeded in doing that."
There appears to be something of a mutual admiration society as Maddon raved back. And based on the extended and animated chat they had after Wednesday's managers luncheon, "loquacious" will be a common adjective.
"I'm really happy for him," Maddon said. "I've had some really good conversations with Bobby. … I think it's very interesting, I think it makes our division even more interesting. I'm not going to say better because I'm not going to denigrate (former Sox manager Terry Francona). I thought Tito did a great job while he was there, and I have a lot of respect for him. … It's just a different scenario there now. It's a different form of competition.
"Bobby definitely is going to add to the interest level in our division. And in baseball in general, I think he's a wonderful man. I love his enthusiasm for the day, not just baseball."
Valentine, 61, has been in a whirlwind since getting hired last week for his first major-league managing job since 2002. He has been working to get to know his new boss (just-promoted GM Ben Cherington), settle his coaching staff (half done) and offer input on restoring the team's image and talent level.
He has made an effort to speak to each of his returning players, though the one prominent one he hasn't been able to connect with is former Ray Carl Crawford, and Valentine said if necessary, he'd get on a plane so he could meet with Crawford before spring training. (For what it's worth, in May 2010 Valentine made a somewhat critical comment on the air about a Crawford play, and the two exchanged barbs through the Times.)
The Rays are, obviously, interested observers in how it works out. They will watch, and listen, and research Valentine's previous tendencies to get a sense of what to expect in their 18 head-to-head games. They know it's going to be different.
"He's obviously," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "a big-time personality in the game."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]com.