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VALENTINE A FINALIST IN TAMPA

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Despite his recent comments regarding his desire to stay in Japan, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine was notified that he was one of three finalists for the Devil Rays managerial opening.

Two days after gauging Bobby Valentine's interest by telephone, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made the former Mets manager one of three finalists for the club's vacant managerial position.

John McLaren, who was departed Devil Rays manager Lou Pinella's top assistant, and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon also remain in the running, with a second round of interviews set during next week's general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif.

Devil Rays executives Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman, who are conducting the search on behalf of new principal owner Stuart Sternberg, hope to make a decision on Piniella's successor within 10 days to two weeks, the team said yesterday.

Putting my seething jealousy aside, Bobby V might be the ideal guy to take over in Tampa. That team has a lot of talented young kids on the big league team and in the farm system and Valentine has always had a soft spot for developing youngsters. I for one would be glad to have Bobby back in the league.