No matter the location, these friends always talk baseball
Farrell, Francona and Hale thrilled to reunite at All-Star Series in Japan
SAPPORO, Japan -- Halfway around the world, in vast domes bearing little resemblance to baseball stadiums back home, John Farrell, Terry Francona and DeMarlo Hale hunkered down together in clubhouse after clubhouse. Each day, they had opportunities to talk about their strange surroundings. They had chances to compare their favorite types of sushi. They had plenty of time to discuss the weather.
Mostly, though, their minds stayed elsewhere.
"We talk baseball," Francona said. "It's fun as heck."
It does not matter if Farrell, Francona and Hale are in Sapporo, where MLB's All-Stars wrapped up the official portion five-game All-Star Series against Samurai Japan on Monday, back home on American soil or anywhere else on earth. For three friends who met years ago over baseball, who bonded over baseball and who reunited this month in Japan over -- what else? -- baseball, the topic rarely strays.
"That's what we like," Francona said. "We can be in a different country, but we still talk baseball. It never changes."
When Farrell accepted an offer to manage the MLB team in September, one of the first things he did was call around to populate his staff. Pitching coach Mike Maddux had already committed to the team, and Farrell's own third-base coach with the Red Sox, Brian Butterfield, was an obvious choice. To fill out the roster, Farrell knew immediately where to turn.
"To be able to reunite with guys that we've had success," Farrell said. "Tito is a special person, special friend, a great baseball guy, and to have he and DeMarlo … we've been able to assemble a group of guys that this is their life."
The ties amongst all three men run deep. In 2002, Hale and Francona worked together on the Rangers' staff, growing close enough that when the Red Sox had a coaching vacancy after the 2005 season, Francona called Hale. A year later, Francona hired his old teammate Farrell, and the three bonded for four years together in Boston.
Then they splintered off, each moving onto different teams. These days, Francona manages the Indians, Farrell skippers the Red Sox and Hale is bench coach for the Blue Jays. The three are still fine friends, but outside of the stray regular-season series, they rarely spend time together.
When the opportunity to do so surfaced in Japan of all places, none of the three could refuse.
"When it first came about, no doubt it's a lot of planning and seeing if you're available and other things," Hale said. "I knew that it was going to be a plus because I knew them. I also knew that it was going to be fun. But I also knew the type of baseball people that they are, that they're about winning. That's what it's about here."
Even in a place as foreign as Japan, Hale said, it feels like the three of them never left Boston.
"There are some stories that flow, some reminders of things that we did well, some stories of things we messed up," Hale said, laughing. "It's been good."
For Francona, this year's Japan trip features additional significance. Eight years ago, MLB asked him to manage the last All-Star team to tour Japan, but Francona had to back out days before the trip after developing an infection in his foot. He made his way East two years later when the Red Sox opened their season in Japan, but always regretted the lost opportunity to enjoy the country on more relaxed terms.
This month has provided Francona with that opportunity. Sharing it with Farrell and Hale has made it worth the wait.
"John's one of my best friends," Francona said. "Me and DeMarlo are like brothers. So going through an experience like this with guys I'm really close to is a lot of fun."
Japan All-Star Series schedule
• Exhibition: MLB 8, Hanshin-Yomiuri 7 | Box
• Game No. 1: Japan 2, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 2: Japan 8, MLB 4 | Box
• Game No. 3: Japan 4, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 4: MLB 6, Japan 1 | Box
• Game No. 5: MLB 3, Japan 1 | Box
• Thursday: Exhibition against Samurai Japan, 4 a.m. ET/9 p.m. JT, Okinawa
MLB Network will broadcast Thursday's seventh and final game of the Japan trip live at 4 a.m. ET, and MLB.TV subscribers in the U.S. and around the world can watch live and on-demand streams as well.