Everything went wrong leading up to Tito's annual speech

Guardians manager overcomes several obstacles to deliver rousing spring speech

February 21st, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This is the day Guardians manager Terry Francona has circled on his calendar every year.

It’s the first day of full-squad workouts at the club's Spring Training complex. Each year, Francona wants to set the tone for the upcoming season by giving a meaningful speech that lays out his expectations for everyone in the room.

“Everybody has a meeting,” Francona said. “But I want to help.”

Francona starts thinking about what he might say to his team as early as December or January. In the past, he’s noted he’s pulled off to the side of the road to make a note when he’s randomly thought of the perfect way to convey what he’s thinking. This year, he spent so much of Guards Fest weekend putting his thoughts to paper.

The anxiety multiplies exponentially once camp finally begins, and the last 24 hours didn’t go as he would’ve planned.

Monday evening

Francona turned down an offer from the rest of his coaching staff to go to dinner. He wanted to stay in and perfect his words. So, he threw pasta in the microwave and started working.

“I’m eating it and eating it. Well, the bottom of it didn’t cook,” Francona said. “I felt something. And I’m like, nah, it’s raw. As I’m swallowing, I’m going, ‘God, that tasted awful.’”

What he tasted was the top half of his molar. The raw pasta noodle snapped Francona’s tooth.

“I’m not sure what that says for the health of my teeth,” he joked.

3:30 a.m., Tuesday morning

Francona couldn’t sleep -- and not because of a new toothache. He was going over so many things in his head that he had to go to work. By 3:45 a.m. local time, Francona was sitting at his office at the team’s Spring Training complex, tweaking his phrases. With papers scattered on his desk and a cup of hot coffee beside him to help fuel him through the early morning hours, disaster ensued.

“I spilled coffee all over my [speech],” Francona said. “I couldn’t get the printer to work. Nobody’s here to help because it was so early. I kept telling myself the day has to get better.”

8:15 a.m., Tuesday morning

Everyone -- from players to staff -- gathered in the Guardians' clubhouse. Just 10 minutes ago, Francona was still crossing things off his notes and making changes.

“My goal was to say what I want,” Francona said. “Like, sometimes you get up in front of 70, 80 people and you find yourself wandering, and I don’t want to do that.”

It was finally time for Francona to breathe a sigh of relief and relay his thoughts to the group, and his message was similar to last season, considering so many familiar faces were back in the clubhouse.

“It’s a great table-setter,” outfielder Richie Palacios said. “It fired the guys up and set the tone on how we know we need to play the game in order for us to be good, and we’re looking forward to doing that this year.”

8:45 a.m., roughly, Tuesday morning

Just in case the speech didn’t captivate the room, Francona had a backup plan.

Guardians replay coordinator Mike Barnett has been on the wrong end of Francona pranks countless times. Over the past year, most of them include hair clippers and horrible, random bald spots on his head. On Tuesday, Barnett had a micro Cindy Lou Who-inspired pigtail sticking straight up from the middle of his scalp. The top of his head was covered with his usual length of hair, but there was a line shaved from ear to ear, as if he received the worst possible fade.

“That is horrendous,” Francona said, with a laugh. “He looks like Alfalfa in the front. But then in the back, he put like, ‘T.’”

Francona brought Barnett, who did similar things like this during the postseason last year, out at the end of the meeting for everyone to see his latest hairstyle.

“I told the guys, ‘I spent a lot of time on this meeting, but just in case I’m full of [it], we got Barney.’ Like ole reliable,” Francona joked. “He came out and did a little pirouette.”

9:00 a.m., Tuesday morning

Francona finally had the speech completed. As he sat down with media, he admitted, “I’m sweating. Like I’m drenched.”

The skipper always feels better once this moment is out of the way. Now, the attention can go back to his tooth: He has Cleveland’s medical staff hunting down a dentist for him to get into by the end of the day.

“They’re gonna find somebody,” he said. “Even if it’s 1-800-DENTIST.”