Tribe skipper catches up with former players, reacts to marathon tragedy
CLEVELAND -- There will be a day when facing the Red Sox brings back a flood of memories and emotions for Indians manager Terry Francona. Tuesday just was not that day.
This was mostly a normal day for Cleveland's manager, save for when he took the stage in a larger interview room to accommodate the considerable media contingent that follows the Red Sox. Francona knows when it will hit him, when he will allow himself to reminisce about his days at the helm in Boston.
"I'm sure when we go back to Fenway it'll bring back a lot of special memories and a lot of thoughts, but we're in Cleveland and this is my home, and the home team," Francona said. "It's not just another series, but at the same time, it's not like I woke up this morning and it's all I thought about."
Francona never wanted this series to be about him anyway.
On Sunday, Francona quipped that it would not be fair to his players to have this three-game series against the Red Sox turn into "nostalgia week." Then, on Monday, the Francona storyline was shoved to the side when things in Boston took a somber turn, and the world watched the aftermath of the tragic bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
When Francona took the podium on Tuesday afternoon, the majority of the question-and-answer session focused on his reaction to the events in his former city. The Indians manager said it did not take Boston ties for people to be struck by what took place.
Francona was hoping, if anything, these games against the Red Sox could restore some normalcy to peoples' lives.
"I hope so. That would be terrific," Francona said. "If it helps anybody at all, that would be terrific. I do think that is the case. Just from being there the time I was, that day is so special to people in Boston. They're so proud of that day. You have the marathon, the game. It's a big deal. It's a very personal day for the city of Boston and New England.
"I don't know how you quantify what happened. It's just unfair. I just hope maybe this game does help some people."
Francona did look forward to reconnecting with some of his former players.
Prior to Tuesday's game, Francona and bullpen coach Kevin Cash (a former Red Sox catcher) headed over to the visitors' side to chat with Dustin Pedroia. Boston's second baseman played a key role in the Red Sox's run to the World Series in 2007 -- the second of two championships captured during Francona's time as the team's manager.
"I went out and saw him for a minute," Francona said. "He didn't get any better looking."
Francona's audience erupted in laughter.
"Neither did I," he quickly added.
During Francona's eight seasons managing the Red Sox from 2004-11, he helped the club reach the postseason six times. In '04, Boston ended its 86-year World Series drought with a miraculous comeback against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series en route to a sweep of the Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
With the Red Sox, Francona won 744 games, which is the second most in franchise history. He posted a .574 winning percentage and ended a franchise-best 192 games above .500. It could be argued that Francona was the greatest manager in Boston's storied history.
"I think the atmosphere he developed in here," Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, "I think the way he coached players, the way he let them be their own personalities, it went a long way. When you've got a guy who has your back and can protect you, it makes you feel good and makes you go out there and play hard."
Jon Lester, who has referred to Francona as a second father, especially during the pitcher's battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006-07, was excited to see his former manager.
"It's going to be a little weird," Lester said, "but yeah, I look forward to it, catching up a little bit. I haven't seen him in a while, but yeah, it's definitely going to be a little awkward seeing him in that Indians uniform rather than the Red Sox."
Francona's tenure with the Red Sox had a rough conclusion, though. In 2011, the Red Sox went 7-20 in September, lost their place in the playoffs on the final day of the season and Francona was let go before the smoke cleared. Reports surfaced about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games, adding an unfortunate end to the manager's run in Boston.
"I had mostly eight really good years," Francona said. "I don't think I would've scripted the end the way it ended. And you move on. Sometimes it's time to move on. I'm really happy where I'm at here."
Francona said is also happy that the Red Sox hired John Farrell -- his pitching coach for four years in Boston -- as the new manager.
"I said the day he got hired the glass became half-full," Francona said, "and I still believe that. I hope for the next three days, everything that could go wrong does for them, but he's one of my best friends -- not just in baseball, but in life. They got a good hire."
"He's a good friend," Farrell said, "a very close friend, a guy that was a huge help to me personally in a number of different ways. A former teammate, all the things that are well known. A guy I care a lot about and I'm looking forward to going up against his team in this series."
Francona noted multiple times that it helps that this first meeting with Boston is taking place in Cleveland, and not at Fenway Park. The Indians manager added that it was also beneficial to take a year off (he worked as an analyst for ESPN in 2012) before taking on another managerial challenge.
Pedroia joked that he can finally watch ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball again with the sound on.
"I agree with him," Francona said with a laugh. "I think I'm where I belong."