FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He rode his bicycle to work Sunday, departing his condominium in darkness and beating most everyone to JetBlue Park. Bobby Valentine has enough detractors to share with a large group, but no one ever questions his energy level.
He didn't do much besides attend a few meetings, speak to the media and chat with some pitchers and catchers who worked out on a day they were required only to arrive in town. But he did so wearing a Red Sox cap and pullover, looking managerial and excited for this next chapter.
"Your biggest challenge is your next challenge," Valentine said in a news conference. "This is my next challenge. There's no discounting the fact that this is what it is. I'm not going to downplay it."
Back in a major-league baseball uniform for the first time since he managed the 2002 Mets to a last-place finish and lost his job, Valentine has a sizable agenda in the next 61/2 weeks. He must start the Red Sox's healing process from the stunning September collapse that led to the departure of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein. He must put his own program and philosophy in place; it took a week of discussions with bench coach Tim Bogar to map out Valentine's vision of spring training.
Oh, and he also must choose a fourth and fifth starting pitcher, a shortstop and a rightfielder, as well as a leftfielder during the injury absence of Carl Crawford (left wrist surgery). Reconstruct the team's bullpen, too.
The Red Sox open camp as American League East underdogs to the Yankees and Tampa Bay, and in no way does Valentine mind that. Consider that he helped elevate the Mets, as well as Texas and Chiba Lotte in Japan, from non-entities to successful clubs.
"I believe in reality as one of the things that determines your future and your results. Dealing with reality," Valentine said. "And the reality is that we are being challenged this year. We're going to be challenged internally . . . We're going to be challenged externally by the teams we're going to play against. Sometimes it's the great challenge that brings the best out of people, and I hope the best can be brought out of this group."
He didn't witness the 2011 Red Sox downfall from the inside; nevertheless, he knows it can't be ignored. "I think our fans will want to see more than they want to hear," Valentine said. "I think they need to hear something, also." So he'll go by feel in terms of how much the situation needs to be addressed and discussed.
For now, though, Valentine has little about which to sweat -- aside from his commute to work. He's running another ballclub, one he said possesses more talent than any other he has led.
"I grew up waiting for the grass to get green and the tulips to come up and the weather to warm and the snow to melt. [It was] the greatest part of the year for me," Valentine said. "It was more than Christmas. It was more than birthdays for me.
"A lot of people of our [New England] region empathize with that and understand that it's a new beginning. That's what spring is. It's a time for excitement."