On most days walking through the clubhouse of the Cleveland Indians, manager Terry Francona is simply just one of the guys. He may be sharing a laugh with 1B Nick Swisher or talking strategy with pitching coach Mickey Calloway before a game, but no matter what, he has the attention of his players as well as his coaching staff. Entering year two with the Indians, Francona has already accomplished a lot. He led the Indians to the postseason a year ago, albeit one game in a wild card loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, but nevertheless, he and the Indians took leaps and bounds together in 2013.
There are higher expectations in 2014, and Francona is the voice the players, coaches and even fans respond to the most for the Indians — and why not? He’s got two rings to show for it managing the Boston Red Sox and even a resume that included playing at the Major League level for a time with the Indians back in the 1980s. If there ever was a true players’ coach that at the same time demanded respect, it’s Francona. “Some managers think they can’t be friends with their players, they have to have their boundaries, Tito can do both, he can be friends with his players and he can manage,” Indians DH Jason Giambi said prior to Monday’s rain out. “As a player you know whatever decision he makes is what’s best for the team.”
Giambi was part of one of those decisions last season. The team took a chance on the old vet who was actually up for a manager’s job with the Colorado Rockies. All the 42-year-old did was hit nine homers, drive in 31 runs and be a leader in the locker room for the young Indians. Looking back on the decision to come to Cleveland in October of 2012 Francona smiles and says it was one that he would make again in a heartbeat. “I love it here, I mean I came here by choice, I think I was pretty open about my reasons for coming here,” Francona said. “I know working through (team President) Mark (Shapiro) and (general manager) Chris (Antonetti) and his guys that I’ve gotten really close to, and because of that coaches get really close to them, we have a really good thing going.”
The fans seem to know and appreciate what he’s already done for the organization. Friday in the pregame intros for the home opener, Francona got maybe the loudest ovation of anyone, player or coach, when introduced. “I was touched,” said Francona. “I was a little surprised, but I was touched. It’s nice to feel cared for and wanted … whatever the word is … in your job. I think I’ve been pretty open about wanting to come here and be a part of this and I have no ambitions about wanting to go anywhere else. It felt good.”
Now it’s year two, though, and while the fans got what they wanted last season, they are hungry for more in 2014. Make no mistake about it, Francona and the team is as well. If the Indians stay on the course they are on with Francona running the show as he is, there will be plenty of good feelings in 2014.