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Tito returns: Not ‘just another day at the office’ for Terry Francona

03.22.12 at 5:29 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The arrival was treated with enthusiasm and curiosity by Terry Francona‘s former players. Dustin Pedroia chastised his former cribbage partner for talking to the media “now that you’re one of them.” David Ortiz stopped in for a hug. Darnell McDonald likewise wanted to see Francona, the man who gave him his most meaningful big league opportunity.

This is Francona’s new job. He is an analyst for ESPN, and so he is making the rounds among big league ballparks for broadcasts. But his arrival in the city where he spent the previous eight springs as Red Sox manager was…different.

‘€œIf I sat here and said, ‘€˜Yeah, this is just another day at the office,’€™ that wouldn’€™t be true,” said Francona. “I’€™m excited to do the game, but I’€™ll be a little glad when the day is over. It’€™s a little awkward for me.’€

That is in part because his Red Sox experience remains something of an emotional tangle, something that became clear when Francona was asked if he would consider returning to Fenway Park if asked for the celebration of the ballpark’s 100th anniversary.

‘€œI’€™m not quite ready for the hugs yet. I’€™m still trying to stop the bleeding,’€ said Francona. “When you go 7-17, especially as a manager, you open yourself up for criticism and you probably deserve to be criticized. I thought I tried to take responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there were things that needed to be done. My voice wasn’€™t necessarily the one that was doing the best job at that point. I thought I was pretty open and honest about that.

“After that, when I left, I thought I would just leave. What happened after that hurt me a lot. It probably always will. The best thing to do is try to move on. Carrying grudges and stuff like that, that’€™s not real healthy. I spent eight years there, and we did a lot of good stuff. That hurt me a little bit.

“It was pretty raw at first,” he added. “When you part ways, whether you’€™re fired or you leave, when you part ways, it hard. That’€™s been eight years of my life. I didn’€™t even really have a chance to really go through those emotions because three days later, all hell broke loose. It was kind of weird. It was difficult. It wasn’€™t just like the normal OK, you’€™re going to pick up and move on and all of a sudden, there’€™s all kinds of things flying around. It wasn’€™t the normal circumstances.’€

Francona has had a conversation with Sox principal owner John Henry, but it took place only last month after Francona had said that he had made several unreturned phone calls to the Sox owner.

“It was probably five months too late,” said Francona. “We talked. It doesn’€™t matter anymore. That’€™s what I kind of told him. I said, ‘€˜We should have had this conversation a long time ago because anything you say now doesn’€™t matter.’ But he was good.”

But Francona is doing his best to move forward. He is embracing his new role as an analyst, proceeding uncertainly as he acclimates to a new set of responsibilities. He knows that he will miss being in the dugout for 162 games a year, but he also believes that this new profession is the right one for him right now.

“Just trying to be honest, my passion is being on the field. But I think it will be really healthy for me to step back and look at baseball without so much emotion,” said Francona. “That would be good for me. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year.’€

That is no longer an issue. He appeared refreshed by the novelty of his role. And in some ways, he seemed most out of his element when dealing with the elements of his life that should be the most familiar, as Francona discovered when he first got lost while driving to dinner in Fort Myers and then, after the meal, ran out of gas on the interstate while driving some of his broadcast colleagues back to their hotel.

‘€œThat was vintage my life,” Francona laughed, recalling that he and broadcast partner Dan Shulman were pushing the car along the shoulder. “When I said I was out of gas, I think they thought I meant I was tired. We’€™re out of gas. … We got to the exit down there right before ours, and, finally we couldn’€™t push any farther. I got out and started walking to a gas station. Some guy rolled down his window — who had installed my cable at the old ballpark. He gave me a ride.’€

And so, Francona is once again finding his way in Fort Myers. It is a new but not entirely foreign undertaking.

OTHER NOTES

On his desire to return to managing: “That may not happen. Again, there’€™s not too many managing jobs out there. But if it ever comes about, and it made sense, I would certainly ‘€¦ but it would have to make sense. I don’€™t want to manage just for the sake of managing. I said that last time and I got this job and it was a good one. It lasted a long time.’€

On the shape of the American League East: “You know I think it’€™s going to come down to whichever staff stays the healthiest. Certainly they’€™ll be the most productive. The Yankees are good, the Red Sox are good, the rays are good. The Blue Jays are pretty good. The Orioles aren’€™t fun to play. I don’€™t know if you can put them in this same boat yet but there’€™s a lot of good teams in one division.’€

On the idea of Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves and/or Felix Doubront in the rotation: “With Felix, I haven’€™t seen much lately just because of the health issues last year. I didn’€™t see Felix pitch much just because of he health issue. But I’€™ve always kind of liked him. Aceves and Bard are going to be good wherever they pitch. It’€™s just wherever they fit. These guys will determine where they fit. They’€™re good pitchers. It probably comes down to where they fit.”

On the difficulty of moving Aceves out of the bullpen into the rotation: ‘€œIt wasn’€™t. It really wasn’€™t. I would have loved to have ‘€¦ we were missing some pitching. We knew that. But he was too valuable to move. And at the point of the season, everybody was clamoring for us to move him as a starter and he wasn’€™t stretched out enough. We would have gotten to the point of the game where we would have needed Aceves to get in so it wouldn’€™t have worked. I wasn’€™t trying to be stubborn and prove a point, we just couldn’€™t, I think he pitched in like six of the last seven games. That was pretty valuable.’€

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daniel Bard, felix doubront, John Henry
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