GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With final roster cuts nearing, vacancies in the outfield that still need to be addressed and bullpen spots to fill, where would be a better place to clear your thoughts than 14,000 feet in the air?
Yes, crunch time is just around the corner as the Indians enter their final days in Goodyear. It’s a time where players on the bubble start gripping the bat a little tighter as anxiety and tension grow to make the final cut. But before the big decisions need to be made, manager Terry Francona experienced some nerves of his own as he strapped a parachute to his back to skydive for the first time.
Francona happened to be swimming at the same pool as some Navy SEALs who had talked about their skydiving experiences, which piqued the manager’s interest. He had the Indians’ vice president of baseball learning and development, Jay Hennessey (who served 25 years in the United States Navy), do some research around the area to find the best skydiving companies.
After the Indians’ win against the Rockies on Thursday, Francona headed to Skydive Buckeye, 21 miles from Goodyear Ballpark. When he arrived, he had to go through three pages of paperwork, which he said was like signing his life away.
“I thought that was interesting, when I went out there, [bench coach Brad Mills] moved all his [stuff] into my office. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something,” Francona said, laughing.
Francona received a quick briefing, then got strapped in and headed to the plane. According to Skydive Buckeye’s website, it takes about 15-20 minutes for the plane to get up to approximately two miles in the air.
“As soon as we took off, he went straight up,” Francona said. “I thought we were going down. I was like, ‘[Dang], I didn’t even get to jump.’ But it was intense.”
Francona was attached to his instructor on the flight, sitting on his lap. Once the plane hit the desired altitude, the tandem made their way to the edge of the plane.
“For me, to get out of the plane was the hardest thing,” Francona said. “He’s like, ‘Pull your legs up.’ And I’m like, ‘They are!’ But they open the door and that wind comes -- and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’
“But then I got my feet out on the strut, and I was OK. I wasn’t panicked. But I started to ask him something about when we’re going, and all of a sudden the plane is over there! It’s amazing, what goes through your mind. All the stupid stuff you’ve done in your life.”
The free fall lasted about 45 seconds, but Francona said he couldn’t fully enjoy it because of the air pressure and wind causing his face to blow back around his head. If he’d do it again, he’d use a helmet to block that all out.
“You know when you clinch the division and they pour champagne on your head? After like three seconds, you’re like, enough,” Francona said. “Try that for 45 seconds. I thought my head was going to explode.”
Although it may have felt like an eternity in the moment, the 45 seconds blew past and Francona quickly forgot about the pressure in his head when the parachute was pulled, causing a painful jolt. But then, a sudden rush of peace came over him as he began his four-minute float down to land. But the ground came upon them quickly.
“You come in, man, kind of hot,” Francona said. “I mean, it’s all gravel. I’m like, ‘[Dang], man. That’s going to hurt.’ And then you just walk right into it. It was unbelievable.”
Francona said he wants to do it again, but maybe he can get some guys in the organization to join him next time.
“I think I’m trying to talk some of the guys into going again as a team-building thing,” Francona said, laughing. “Three of the guys are like, ‘Hey, man. My wife won’t let me.’ I told them, if that chute don’t open, it’s not going to matter. She’s going to be mad at you?”