FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pages torn from notebooks throughout 20 years of covering and admiring Bobby Valentine...

He built a fence

Valentine did it himself, in the middle of a blazing Texas summer while managing the Texas Rangers. No matter how late he'd gotten home, no matter how tired or stressed he was, he'd rise early and spend a few hours each day digging holes, lining up posts and stringing wire around his land.

This story speaks volumes about Bobby Valentine. Dozens of North Texas companies build state-of-the-art fences, and many of them would have been happy to build one for the Rangers' manager.

Valentine could have traded tickets or done an endorsement, or maybe done nothing at all and gotten a fence. That would not have been Bobby V's way. He liked the challenge of building a fence, of doing it right, of doing it in the wilting Texas heat.

He built a deck, too

This was an offseason project, adding a deck to his home, 12 feet off the ground, sturdy enough to hold a hot tub. Valentine bought books on building and designing decks. He bought a video tape, too. He bought tools and lumber, and then he built a deck.

Here's an important footnote: Somewhere along the way, a guy told Valentine only a professional could build a deck that would hold a hot tub.

That warning only doubled the challenge for Bobby V, and so he built himself a deck.

"They said it couldn't be done," Valentine said. "I used a three-four-five pythagorean theory to square that corner. I still remember that. I couldn't get that sucker square."

When it's mentioned that this deck reveals something of Valentine's character, of his need to be DOING something, he smiled and brushed off the comment.

"I was just too cheap to have one built," Valentine said.

And he built a restaurant

Anyone can open a restaurant and put his famous name on it. Valentine's idea of opening a restaurant in those Arlington, Texas, years was to first BUILD the restaurant. So he obtained a building in Arlington, and for months, he'd leave the ballpark after a game, drive directly to the building and spend a few hours tearing out, cleaning, building, envisioning.

Once Bobby V's Sports Grill opened, he'd be there some nights, greeting guests, tending bar, making sure the nachos and cheeseburgers were done right. Valentine did not open a restaurant because he needed the money or the ego gratification. He did it because he needed the challenge.

After the September 11th attacks

Valentine poured himself into the relief work in the days after the attacks. He visited workers and the families of victims. He helped load and unload trucks with supplies in the parking lot of Shea Stadium.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, Valentine seemed physically exhausted and emotionally spent by the time baseball returned to the city 10 days later, but the last thing he was going to do was step aside and allow others to do the heavy lifting.

Valentine marveled that New York City's worst moment had also been one of its finest, in terms of a united spirit and unwavering resilience. He waved away credit, but he'd been a tiny part of making that happen.

Back in the game

At 61, Valentine appears to be having the time of his life, back managing in the Major Leagues for the first time in a decade. If this is his last stop, he's soaking up every moment, offering advice for every drill, signing every autograph, making this ride his best ever.

Valentine is engaging, smart, funny and knows the game as well as anyone who has ever played or managed it. He will not hide from controversy, and as he has already shown, sometimes will seek it out.

Still, there's something larger in all of this, something fulfilling Valentine in a way nothing else could. He tells of walking onto the field before a game last season and visiting with several Braves, including former manager Bobby Cox. He said he enjoyed catching up, but that in the end, it felt wrong.

"I felt like an outsider," Valentine said. "Now I feel like an insider."

Valentine bikes the 12 miles or so from his spring housing to JetBlue Park each day, and then behaves like a guy who is getting an opportunity that might never come his way again, and he's making the most of it.

He has had some fun with the media, taking some mild shots at Derek Jeter and the Yankees and waving goodbye this week when Ozzie Guillen was thrown out of a spring game.

When Valentine banned beer in the Red Sox's clubhouse, former Boston manager Terry Francona called it "a PR move." When reporters asked Valentine about the comments, he sat there on a bench silent for maybe 20 seconds. He said not a word, clearly trying to decide whether this was the time to engage his predecessor.

Valentine said almost nothing that first time, then as the questions wore on, as he thought more and more about Francona's comments, he couldn't help himself.

"Over there [at ESPN], they get paid to say things," Valentine said. "Over here, we get paid to do things."

Ouch.

Words aside, the Red Sox are in for a ride. If it seemed the clubhouse needed more discipline, Valentine will bring it back and then some. There will be no question that he's in charge of his team.

Valentine may end up being just what the Red Sox need. He'll demand discipline, and he'll also reach out to his players individually. He will also put them in position to succeed, and that's really all that matters.