Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
If it were anyone other than Bobby Valentine, it would have been easy to paint it as a depressing picture.
There he was, in a Manhattan basement Wednesday, waiting out a Mets rain delay by watching the Orioles play the Red Sox on a dreary night during which Boston had its 820-game Fenway Park sellout streak end -- part of the fallout from his one unsuccessful season as manager there.
But Bobby V being Bobby V, the vibe was clear: He had moved past the Sox meshugas and was on to the next thing. Make that next things, juggling multiple endeavors -- and, at age 62, seemingly with plenty of energy for all of them.
"I always say if you can do something, why not?" he said, referring to his jobs with NBC Radio, SNY and, as of July 1, athletic director at Sacred Heart.
The story idea was to spend a night watching Valentine watch the Mets in his second outing as a part-time studio analyst for SNY. It paid off in less than 10 seconds, when he began the pregame show by declaring Matt Harvey "the best Met pitcher to ever wear the uniform."
"Well, it's just what I see," he said later, although he made it clear he was referring mostly to Harvey's skills and potential. "I think he has better stuff than anybody I've ever seen in a Met uniform. I don't know how it will translate [over time]. But I don't think a lefthander in baseball can hit his fastball up and away.
"I know we don't like to blow guys up. I'm sorry I'm doing that. I don't want to put any Mets pitching hex on this kid . . . I do not think it's going to blow him up. The kid knows he's good; maybe he should know just how good he is."
Valentine then offered a highly technical explanation of why Harvey's delivery is less likely to result in injury than fellow phenom Zack Wheeler's, in part because Harvey is more centered as his arm decelerates.
Short, simple version: "The other kid looks younger, less mature in his mechanics."
For most of the 31/2 hours between pregame and postgame, Valentine and Bobby Ojeda, SNY's lead studio analyst, watched in the newsroom, trading observations and ideas with producer Dave Mandel, who sat between them.
Ojeda is famously meticulous in his preparation and focus, but it was evident that Valentine was engaged, too.
When Jordany Valdespin jogged home on an apparent sacrifice fly by Ike Davis, only to have the run erased when Daniel Murphy was caught off second, Valentine went to the editing room to time the play and determine whether Valdespin could have scored. At 2.8 seconds, the answer was no.
There wasn't much to get excited about in the Mets' 7-3 loss to the Phillies, but after a lifetime in the game -- and only six months removed from the Red Sox dugout -- Valentine does not watch games like a civilian.
He correctly called Lucas Duda's first of two home runs just before it happened. He praised Valdespin's bunting technique, noted that Davis' practice swing is more fundamentally sound than his actual swing and guessed right most of the time regarding pitch selection, including noticing an indication in Josh Edgin's hand position regarding what pitch was coming.
With the bases loaded, two outs in the third and Erik Kratz up for the Phillies, Valentine turned to Ojeda and asked what he would throw in that situation if he were Jeremy Hefner.
"I'm throwing a changeup," Ojeda said, meaning that is what he would have done in his pitching days.
Said Valentine: "Well, he is going to throw a front-door slider."
Sure enough, Hefner did, and Kratz flied out to shallow centerfield.
As Valentine watched, he received a few emails related to Sacred Heart, a job choice that baffled many Bobby V-watchers. Why do it? Per Valentine's philosophy of life, why not?
"When the [ski] lift opens at 8, I like to be on it," he said. "You don't get that hour back if you get there at 9 . . . I've always done that. I like doing stuff. I think you get energy from that. You get bored if you're not doing something."
Sacred Heart president John Petillo admitted Valentine was an "out-of-the-box selection" when he hired him, and he has permitted what Valentine called "extracurriculars," such as working a dozen or so games for SNY.
"He obviously understands part of the job of the AD is to expand the brand," Valentine said of his visibility. "I told him if they think I'm not committed or I think I'm not committed, let's re-evaluate. There's nothing set in blood and stone."
Valentine's schedule with SNY is front-loaded, with few appearances after July 1. By then, the Mets could be out of contention. Or not.
"I think they're a good team, and interesting," he said. "I don't think they're all that bad."
We shall see. His next scheduled appearance is next Friday.