May 23, 2013

MLB: Francona remembers time in Boston fondly


BOSTON -- Terry Francona felt right at home in the visiting dugout.

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Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona walks past photographers as he heads to the bench of the visitor's dugout before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, May 23, 2013. Francona was Red Sox manager for the 2004 and 2007 World Series Championship seasons. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)


Back at Fenway Park as a manager for the first time since being let go by the Boston Red Sox in 2011, he was calm and occasionally funny while wearing the cap of the Cleveland Indians.

After all, he's back in baseball.

"Being in a dugout or clubhouse, there's no place I'm more comfortable," Francona said Thursday night as he sat in the opposite dugout from where he spent eight seasons as Boston's manager. "Part of the reason I'm OK with this is I'm really proud of coming here with this hat on, this uniform.

"And that takes nothing away from the eight years I was here. It makes it easier for me to look back on some of the fonder memories and now you start new ones in another place."

In his first season as their manager in 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Three years later, they won another. And four years after that he was let go following a September collapse that cost the Red Sox a playoff berth.

"I wish the ending would have been different," Francona said before Thursday night's opener of a four-game series.

He spent last season as an ESPN analyst then was hired to replace Manny Acta, who lost 94 games.

The Indians started Thursday in first place in the AL Central.

"I wasn't going to Cleveland to go to pasture," Francona said. "Every game means the same to me here in Cleveland as it ever did here (in Boston). Our goals are exactly the same -- to win the game we're playing. But I like where I'm at and maybe for me, where I'm at in my life and baseball, this is a really good place."

There's less media and fan scrutiny. And there are fewer big-name players than he had in Boston where he managed Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Josh Beckett.

After Francona spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes, Ortiz walked into the dugout with a big smile and embraced his former manager.

Francona said he hadn't had much time to think how emotional the night would be.

"Everybody kept saying, 'well, are you going to be emotional?' You don't know," he said. "We played a late game (Wednesday) night. We got in about 5 (a.m.), got up at 8. It's been a busy day and, for people that know me, I really don't think that far ahead. I know I've been accused of that in the games, but I just kind of take it as it comes."

After the first inning, a video tribute on the center field scoreboard showed former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, now Francona's third-base coach, former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, now Francona's bullpen coach, and former Red Sox players Justin Masterson, Mike Aviles and Rich Hill, all with the Indians.

It ended with several scenes of Francona in the dugout and on the field as Boston's manager, one of them in which he hugged Martinez.

He received a standing ovation and remained in his dugout. He waved his left hand and patted his heart with his right hand.

Francona said he hadn't spent time thinking how the fans might react.

"These are some of the best fans in the world," he said. "If you like baseball, this is a good place to be and I got to be a part of that. I feel very fortunate."

Francona actually managed as a Fenway visitor while with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997-2000, going 4-4. This season, the Red Sox swept the Indians in a three-game series at Cleveland from April 16-18.

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