SOUTH PORTLAND — Bobby Valentine first visited Maine in 1964, when he played in a Babe Ruth baseball tournament in Old Orchard Beach.

He returned to Maine on Friday, baseball still at the forefront.

Valentine, the new Boston Red Sox manager, turned on the charm Friday for more than 400 patrons at the Portland Sea Dogs annual Hot Stove Dinner at the Sable Oaks Marriott.

He knew his audience.

“The foundation of any organization is the minor leagues,” Valentine said. “What you do here in Portland is what a foundation is all about. You do a great job.”

Valentine, 61, highlighted a guest list that included Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mariners pitcher Charlie Furbush of South Portland, and new Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett.

Winter may have finally arrived this week with the first lasting snow of the year, but the talk Friday was spring.

“We’re all excited to get to spring training,” Saltalamacchia said.

And yes, Saltalamacchia said part of the excitement stems from wanting to put 2011 behind him.

The 2011 season, including the infamous collapse in September, is one reason why Valentine was in Portland on Friday.

After going 7-20 in September and missing the playoffs by one game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was ushered out of Boston. Fans were angered by an appearance of apathy, including pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games.

Valentine was brought in to re-energize a roster that under-achieved last season.

Can he motivate these Red Sox?

“I don’t know that an outside person ever motivated me to do anything,” he said. “I motivated myself to do everything I’ve done in my life.

“But I think the environment I’ve been in has helped me achieve a lot of things … I’m hoping the guys are in an environment from the first day of spring training to the end of the season that will help them self-start and self-motivate.

“I’ll be there to turn up the volume or turn it down, or do whatever I think might be able to help them be as good as they can possibly be.”

When talking about he expects from the players, Valentine did not mention banning fried chicken in the clubhouse during games, but you can read between the lines:

“I want them to be the kind of team that fans want to see on the field,” he said, “a professional team that understands their responsibilities to their teammates and to their organization, and to the fans — to put forth their best effort every minute of the day.”

And will Valentine talk to his players about last year?

“When everyone gets (to Fort Myers for spring training), ownership, the front office and the manager all address the team,” Valentine said. “I’d be surprised if something wasn’t mentioned about last year.”
Valentine’s presence has at least one player pleased.

“With Bobby, I think things are going to be great,” Saltalamacchia said. “He seems to be a great guy. His background speaks for itself.”

Valentine has managed the Rangers (1985-92), the Mets (1996-2002) and in Japan (1995, 2004-08). He won a pennant with New York in 2000.

For the past two years, Valentine has been a commentator for ESPN.

“Luckily, I was afforded a great opportunity to re-acclimate myself with the world of baseball, MLB style — see a lot of games,  learn a lot of players …”

Valentine has spent time visiting players, calling them, sending notes. He thinks he’s reached everyone.

“I don’t know if (Junichi) Tazawa has received my New Year’s card,” said Valentine, who communicated his thoughts in both Japanese and English.

Valentine learned Japanese fluently, unlike most Americans who play and manage in Japan. He is known for his attention to detail, his high intellect and his fiery, sometimes brash style.

Now he holds one of the most visible jobs in New England.

“I’m thrilled,” he said.