David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
FORT MYERS, Fla.
A year ago, it was only one channel, a constant video loop of whatever was on the agenda for that particular day. Maybe it was snippet after snippet of teams executing cutoff drills or an endless series of 3-1 putouts.
Bobby Valentine was new to the Red Sox then. Only days into what would be a brief and bizarre tenure in Boston, he tried some things that were supposed to reverse this franchise's downward spiral, a swan dive that had been piloted in the final weeks of 2011 by Terry Francona.
Valentine's efforts, which often were unorthodox, failed big-time. But the deposed manager succeeded in doing one thing -- making the Red Sox realize they needed Francona again. Or someone as close to Francona as they could get. That man apparently was John Farrell.
"They have very similar personalities," said Jon Lester, who had Farrell as his pitching coach under Francona before Farrell left to become the Blue Jays' manager. "They handle the media well. I think the biggest asset for John is just how prepared he is. That's a big trait, a very important trait, and I think he learned a lot of that from Tito.''
It's easy for everyone to take jabs at Valentine now that he no longer is roaming the back fields of JetBlue Park, and there were the occasional comments Friday about how much smoother things have been this February. The only person to mention Valentine by name was David Ortiz, who earlier in the week ridiculed his spring training methods.
"When we were doing workouts, I started seeing things I've never seen in baseball," Ortiz told reporters. "I've been watching and playing baseball for a long time. I had question marks on things that I saw. Those question marks went into the season, and you guys saw the disaster that happened."
But 2011 was a disaster, too, and Francona -- after guiding the Red Sox to two World Series rings in four seasons -- was singled out as the cause of that collapse. As a result, the combustible Valentine was brought in to be the anti-Francona.
A year later, Farrell is the anti-Valentine. Maybe in coming full circle, the Red Sox finally have fixed the problem.
"Everything's been positive so far," Dustin Pedroia said. "Everybody seems to be going in the right direction.''
Toronto wasn't so great under Farrell, who went 154-170 (.475) in two seasons as manager. The Blue Jays were decimated by injuries last season, and the jury is out on whether Farrell can be a difference-maker.
"I'm not going to say because of my prior time here that everything is going to be fine," he said. "That would be fool-hearted on my part. The thing we want to emphasize is that it's a matter of what we do on the field and not what we're talking about.''
It's a good plan. Valentine's words created plenty of trouble, starting last April with his rips of Kevin Youkilis, a dubious move that alienated the team's veteran core.
But that was a flawed team before Valentine took over, and if they're not a rebuilding franchise now, let's just say the Red Sox are a recovering one. And what often helps best during that process is some peace and quiet.
When asked Friday if the players cheered or booed his opening address, Farrell paused a while before answering. "They're a businesslike group," he said. "Very stoic."
After the last two seasons, acting like idiots isn't such an endearing phrase around the Red Sox anymore.