Francona reflects on bond shared with dad over baseball
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona could not wait to light the cigars with his dad. While in Cuba with Team USA during his college days, Francona purchased the smokes and snuck them back into the Unites States in a pair of his socks.
"I probably didn't tell him that part," Francona says now with a laugh.
When Terry presented the Cuban cigar to his dad, though, Tito Francona had a different idea.
"I gave it to him and I was all proud, because it was like $12 or something," the Indians manager recalled. "He was like, 'I'm going to save this until you get to the big leagues.'"
Francona reflected on that memory with another Father's Day arriving on the calendar. The 56-year-old manager was raised with a big leaguer for a dad in Tito, who suited up for nine teams in parts of the 1956-70 seasons. Cleveland was Tito's team for the 1959-64 campaigns, making for a special moment when Terry got to call his dad in 2012 and tell him he'd be the manager for the Tribe.
Terry Francona said his father -- now 81 years old -- watches each one of the Indians' games these days. One thing Tito never does, though, is question one of his son's in-game decisions. In fact, Terry Francona said his dad was always good about separating the roles of father and coach.
"I really, I guess, appreciated that," said the manager. "He knew I was listening. He knew I watched. I watched everything. Growing up, once he came home, he'd take his lawn chair and go out and sit in right field, because he didn't want to make the coach feel [awkward]. I think maybe most parents could probably learn a lesson from that, let alone a guy that played.
"He knew I was paying attention, and all we really talked about was baseball."
Francona also said his dad had a great way of being there for him, even when Tito was far away from his family during his big league days.
"Until I was about 12, my dad was always gone," Francona said. "For the most part, he was probably two or three thousand miles away, and he had a really wonderful way of making feel like he wasn't. And this was before cell phones. He always knew when I had a game and he'd call home. He'd ask if I hustled or if I tried hard, and then at the end he'd ask if i got any hits. But, I never once felt like my dad wasn't around, which was a pretty big compliment to him."
In 1981, Terry Francona was in Denver with his Double-A club when he got the call that he was heading to Montreal for his Major League debut.
Terry called Tito and had a message for him.
"I said, 'Hey, dad, you can smoke that cigar now,'" Francona said. "I remember him kind of starting to cry."
Francona paused and smiled.
"I think the cigar probably smelled like old socks," he added with a laugh.