It’s pretty hard to imagine crazed public adulation for former Rangers/Mets skipper Bobby Valentine were he to become the next Dodgers or Devil Rays manager. According to the LA Times’ Bruce Wallace, however, since winning that country’s championship series, Everyday Is Valentine’s Day in Japan.
Tokyo is Bobby’s Town.
Take the crowd in Shibuya on a recent Friday evening, the neon glowing over one of Tokyo’s hippest and busiest neighborhoods. Valentine is standing at Shibuya’s famous intersection with three buddies from college days who came over to see the final series — “The Goons,” he calls them affectionately — when a murmur begins to surf the crowd.
“Is it Bobby?” people ask, and suddenly he and his friends are surrounded, like a milestone home-run ball that has landed in the bleachers. Ten, 20, 50 people with more coming, all thrusting cellphones into his face until finally Valentine calls a halt and strides away.
He leads The Goons across the intersection and into a pachinko parlor, the Japanese gambling arcades whose machines are a cross between slots and pinball. People sit on stools, transfixed, as thousands of tiny steel balls tumble about in a deafening rattle.
They look as if their fate is in those balls. But an old woman recognizes Valentine and abandons her post at the machine to ask for an autograph.
When Valentine steps toward her, he accidentally kicks over a bucket of pachinko balls. Thousands roll down the aisles and scatter under machines.
“It’s OK, it’s OK, Bobby,” says the owner, rushing up to soothe him. She doesn’t want Valentine to be upset. Staff members grab brooms. The Americans escape into the neon night.
Suddenly the owner is chasing after them. “Bobby!” she shouts. He left without giving her an autograph.
“Arigato” — thank you — Valentine says as he bows and signs. She’s over the moon.