The woman’s passion for baseball was clear. She stood before the new manager of the Red Sox, fighting back emotion. “They might’ve taken us for granted,” she said of the players. “You need to remind them that there aren’t many places like this.”

THIS is Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox and the location of the ninth annual Christmas at Fenway this past Saturday. The event was first held in 2003 as the first day of ticket sales, but it has evolved into a daylong hot-stove celebration. Fans get memorabilia, win prizes and take part in round-table discussions.

This discussion featured Bobby Valentine, who replaced Terry Francona as manager on Dec. 1. It also featured plenty of emotion from the fans who lined up to ask questions and talk about how Valentine will turn around a team that lost 20 of 27 games in September in one of the worst collapses in baseball history.

“If we can match your passion with our performance, then everything will be cool,” said Valentine. “When our performance doesn’t live up to your passion, it’s OK to let me know about it. It’s OK to let us know about it.”

You can bet they will. Fans had plenty to say when the team fell out of the race in stunning fashion, missing out on the playoffs for the second straight year. There is still plenty of unease surrounding Red Sox Nation, but fans seem to be responding to Valentine.

Christmas may have come early for Valentine, who says it still hasn’t completely sunk in that he’s managing the Sox. While he is thrilled to be the front man of the organization, he doesn’t believe for a second his presence will sway how fans feel about his team. The players will have to earn that respect in the spring.

“I get it,” said Valentine after the event. “This is Fenway Park. This is the Boston Red Sox. It’s definitely not about me. It’s about the players that are here and the tradition that we have and that I’m lucky enough to be a part of now.”

Valentine has been spending his first days as manager reaching out to players, discussing the offseason and coming year. He has already traveled to the Dominican Republic to meet with players, and offered to travel to the south to meet with others. He might be 61 years old, but he has more energy than many men half his age.

He’ll need it. He’s replacing one of the most popular managers in franchise history. Francona spent eight years at the helm, guiding the team to five postseason appearances and two World Series titles.

The two men have very different styles. Francona was laid back and preferred his team’s actions to do the talking. Valentine isn’t afraid to speak his mind, something fans will find refreshing next season.

He’s also quick with a joke. That humor was on display Saturday at Fenway when he talked about his bald predecessor in the manager’s office.

“I did take my first shower in the manager’s office today after I worked out,” said Valentine. “I can’t figure this out. There’s no soap in the shower, and there’s three bottles of shampoo and one conditioner. I’m not making this up. What is that?”

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.