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Valentine, Francona swap stories

DALLAS -- Worlds colliding.

"This is surreal,'' Terry Francona said. "Like reality TV.''

"Worse,'' Bobby Valentine said. "This is reality.''

Tuesday night in a second-floor hall above the enormous lobby of the Hilton Anatole. At one end of the hall, ESPN has installed a temporary set around a baseball-shaped table and three chairs for "Baseball Tonight." The host, Karl Ravech, says hello to the two men who have joined him.

Terry Francona, who has arrived first, takes the middle chair. He is wearing a dark suit and red-striped tie.

Bobby Valentine, wearing a navy blue sports jacket and an open-collared shirt, arrives with Red Sox publicist Pam Ganley, shakes Francona's hand, and takes the seat on the end.

Francona is the new baseball analyst for ESPN. Until two months ago, he was Red Sox manager.

Valentine is the new manager for the Red Sox. Until a week ago, he was a baseball analyst for ESPN.

Trading places.

Francona gets Ganley's attention. "Can you imagine us doing one of those TV ads, and I'm talking about leaving with dignity, and they show me fighting with Bobby over a Red Sox jersey?'' he says.

Ganley smiles.

"You won't believe this,'' he tells her. "I broke my cellphone again.''

She shakes her head. She is not surprised.

The lights on the cameras turn on. Ravech introduces his guests.

"The word ironic,'' says Francona, the rookie broadcaster, "seems to be appropriate.''

"Yeah, it is kind of weird,'' Valentine says.

This could have been worse than awkward. Francona crashed and burned at the end of a wildly successful eight-year run as manager of the Red Sox. He interviewed for the St. Louis Cardinals job and didn't get it. He wanted the Chicago Cubs job and never really was in the conversation.

The kind of hurt he was feeling doesn't go away overnight.

"You talk about frame of mind,'' Francona says in the interview. "Framed might be more like it.''

Valentine was still floating. Two days in Dallas, and the smile had rarely left his face. Friends said they'd never seen him happier. He hadn't managed in the big leagues since 2002, when it had been his time to crash and burn with the New York Mets. Now he was back, at age 61 feeling as lucky as he felt when he was 18 and drafted in the first round by the Dodgers. Living the dream again.

"I can tell you this,'' Francona says, "I'll sleep better next summer than he will.''

"Bobby doesn't sleep,'' Ravech says.

Ravech asks Francona if he has any advice for Valentine about managing the Red Sox. Francona says Valentine doesn't need his advice. "He's been managing longer than I have,'' he says.

If either man is uncomfortable, it doesn't show. Valentine tells a story about going into Francona's former office, opening a drawer and finding three envelopes left by Francona for the new manager. Inside the first envelope, he says, are instructions that if the team is struggling early, to blame Tito. In the second envelope, he says, are instructions that if the team is still struggling midseason, to blame the minor leagues. The third envelope, he says, is to be opened only at the end of the season if the team is still losing.

And what does it say? "Make out three envelopes,'' Valentine says.

Ba-da-bing. It is the kind of story that Tommy Lasorda, Valentine's first manager, would have told.

"The only advice I can really give him,'' Francona says, "is that in the bathroom, there is a mouse. It's in there every day.''

"He'll miss you,'' Valentine says.

A week after the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs, a front-page story in a Boston newspaper about the team's collapse described a scenario of pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. It was intended to convey the message that this was a team out of control, even though similar scenes probably could be found in every clubhouse in baseball.

A week ago, during a radio interview, Francona joked that after being ejected during one game, he returned to the clubhouse, enraged -- and grabbed a piece of chicken on the way to his office.
Tuesday night, Francona made this suggestion to Valentine: "Change the cuisine in the clubhouse, and you'll probably be going upward.''

Valentine: "Go to the deep-fried, instead of just the fried.''

Ravech asks what it will be like for Francona to walk into his old office in Fenway in his new job. "It'll be a little weird,'' he said.

"Emotional,'' Valentine said.

"I'll rip you,'' Francona promises.

Ravech asks Francona if Valentine should pay attention to what is said on TV.

"I don't know about TV,'' Francona said. "I wouldn't listen to the radio.''

Francona and Valentine exchange niceties about their new jobs.

"I'm very lucky,'' Francona says. "So are you.''

"I'm very lucky, too,'' Valentine says.

The camera lights go off. Smiles all around.

"Is the camera still on?'' Francona says as he stands up. "I [expletive] hate him.''

Laughs all around. Francona asks what time his next TV hit is. Valentine wonders if there is a way to leave without passing through the lobby. Francona points the way.

So, how hard was this to do?

"I'm still in a fog for the last five days,'' Valentine said.

Not hard at all, Francona said. "Hey, it's nothing personal.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.