Bobby Valentine’s vast resume includes 16 years as a major league manager with three different teams, most recently with the Red Sox in 2012.
Now back in a dugout for the first time in four years, he will be the first to interrupt anyone looking to make a comparison to his prior work.
“It’s not the same thing at all,” said the 66-year-old Stamford native.
Half of the 20 players on the roster are both too young to have a driver’s license and months ago needed to Google Valentine’s name to find out about his accomplishments. Valentine has been on a brief leave of absence from his job as Sacred Heart University’s athletic director the past month, traveling mostly in the southeast as the manager of X Fury, a U17 baseball team comprised of players from the tri-state area.
“I wanted to experience what this travel baseball is all about,” Valentine said. “I wanted to see what the rest of the country is doing so it’s been fun, exciting and worthwhile.”
The seed for the concept was planted earlier this year, after a meeting with Valentine and his close friend Pablo Stalman, whose son Lucas plays at King. Lucas has been coached the past eight years by former Stamford High star Mike Megale, who has his own select baseball youth training business.
“We tried to figure out where the tournaments were,” Valentine said. “How to travel around in a sensible way. Mike and Pablo put the schedule together. Get online and see the different tournaments there are and see how to get from one to another in a timely fashion. It has been quite a hectic schedule.”
Megale said his business consists of handling clients year-round, doing their baseball training, strength and conditioning, with some college consulting. He tapped into his area contacts to help put together the team, which includes Justin Jordan and Jake Geddes, two members of Darien’s FCIAC championship team.
“We were very overwhelmed by the players that were interested,” Megale said. “You can’t really describe it. It’s been unbelievable in so many ways. Learning how kids have handled being away from home, and at the same time how the kids are learning from their baseball accomplishments and their failures. Watching them grow as young people into young men has been nothing but satisfying.”
Valentine’s coaching staff also includes former major league player Jerry Royster.
X Fury has traveled extensively since the end of June across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. With a roster comprised mostly of 15- and 16-year-olds, and playing against older competition, the team is currently 24-5, with another 10 days before coming home.
Jordan, who has been pitching, playing centerfield and some first base, admitted he knew Valentine had managed the Red Sox, but knew nothing about his past as one of the best scholastic athletes in state history and a major league player.
“It’s been great,” Jordan said. “He knows everything about the game and I’ve learned a lot of small things that I didn’t even realize and that are easy things to kind of know. This has been a different experience because I’ve been away from home since June 15, but I really love it. It has just been fun.”
Valentine said this latest adventure has been illuminating.
“I never did youth baseball before so it has been a great experience for me to be around them, how they’re learning and developing,” Valentine said. “It’s been good. A blend of kids from different cultural backgrounds. Bi-lingual kids, kids from Fairfield County, a nice mix for them to be part and parcel of the other cultures that we’re blending, with baseball being the common denominator.”
Part of the itinerary has included stops at colleges, including recently crowned national champion Coastal Carolina.
“We’ve visited quite a few universities along the way, sometimes with college coaches sometimes without them,” Valetine said. “Some of these kids who wouldn’t know what Vanderbilt looked like have had a chance to go on the campus. It’s been all encompassing. To hear college coaches tell them what to expect, the importance of grades.”
After years of working one on one, this has been Megale’s first experience with a team since he played minor league ball for the Sussex Skyhawks in 2010.
“It has been just as exciting for me as it has been for them to the point Bobby has had to remind me I’m a coach and not a player,” Megale said. “What you are learning from Bobby, what you are learning from the kids, the type of talent on this level. It has been great. To watch them become a confident team has been nothing but spectacular.”
Megale said the past month has caused him to consider whether the high-level summer baseball circuit may be a way to broaden his business.
For now, the members of X Fury are living in the moment and enjoying their final days together.
“I think when it is all said and done most everyone if not everyone who has been part of it is going to have close to a life-changing experience,” Valentine said. “At least an experience for a lifetime.”