Mets fans of a certain vintage will have a hard time understanding this, but Bobby Valentine is a very, very popular manager:
After nine innings of sustained chanting and singing, about 150 of the most loyal fans remained behind in silence with their banners raised over their heads, the Japanese characters on the 70-foot signs shouting out in protest from the right-field bleachers.
"We would rather fight with Bobby, who says we're the world's best fans," one sign read, "than with a front office who calls us worthless."
"Bobby stands behind us. We stand behind Bobby," read another.
It was the third consecutive game in which the fans had staged this unusual protest, all part of a campaign to force the Chiba Lotte Marines to reverse course and keep Bobby Valentine, a baseball lifer from the United States, as their manager beyond the current season.
Based on the reaction his contract situation is causing, Valentine's popularity with the Chiba Lotte fans is nothing short of astounding. Some of this has to do with him winning the 2005 championship -- the first in 31 years for the club -- but it also has to do with a series of fan-friendly gestures he has made such as getting his players to sign more autographs, removing barriers between the fans and the field and generally stoking interest in the team and rallying the fan base.
There's a distinct possibility that Valentine will be back in Major League Baseball next year. Maybe even with the Mets if they can't right the ship. While there's little to no chance that he or anyone else could hope to engender the same kind of devotion among fans, I do wonder if he'll be able to at least inspire the fans and affect positive change the way he has with the Marines.