CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona finally had a chance to take a breath, survey the scene and enjoy the All-Star experience.
During his stints as American League manager in 2005 and ’08 with the Red Sox, he was too busy worrying about getting all the players in the game while making sure he didn’t run out of pitchers.
But this year, serving as an invited coach on Boston manager Alex Cora’s staff, Francona is relishing the relaxation.
He made an appearance in the parade Tuesday afternoon before the big game, taking his customary scooter ride to Progressive Field, just with a lot more people watching. On Sunday night he had time for the All-Star bash at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“I don’t have a responsibility,” he said Monday. “I plan to take a step back and actually enjoy it. Because when you’re working it, it’s hard to do that.”
Francona being Francona means entertaining with stories heavy on the humor, self-depracation and cuss words.
He said he doesn’t even remember his first All-Star Game as a manager, after the Red Sox broke their World Series curse in 2004. He was locked in on the roster and trying to make sure everyone played.
“People ask me about something, I’m like, ‘That happened?’” Francona said.
The return trip was just as stressful.
“Then in ’08, the game counted,” he said, referring to the short-lived experiment of the winning league getting home-field advantage in the World Series. “So we’re in the 14th or 15th inning and I was in a bit of panic. I remember (Royals reliever) Joakim Soria was coming off the mound in like the 11th or something and he was waving at his family. I went up and said, ‘Hey, man, you shove that wave up your a--, you’ve got to go back out there.
“I remember looking at the lineup card and (Tigers manager) Jim Leyland goes, ‘Hey, big boy, you can look at that lineup card all you want, you’re not going to find another pitcher.’”
The ’08 game wasn’t all nerves for Francona. He had no choice but to appreciate the magnitude of the moment during pregame introductions.
“It was the last year at Yankee Stadium, so that was special in itself,” he said. “And they had the managers kind of stationed back behind home plate by the screen. And they started bringing out all these Hall of Famers.
“And, I mean, they were bringing them out like three at every position. And I was standing there thinking, ‘What in the hell am I doing standing here?’ It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.”
Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber, who’s an All-Star in his first full season in the majors, had just talked to Francona on Tuesday afternoon and didn’t notice a change with his smaller role.
“He’s the same old Tito,” Bieber said. “He always keeps the mood light. But I’m glad he gets to sit back and relax a little bit more and enjoy it a little bit more.”
Indians All-Star closer Brad Hand said Francona’s easygoing personality makes him easy to play for, and was glad he’d have time to be entertained by the All-Star festivities.
“Especially in his home ballpark, it should be a fun experience for him,” Hand said.
Francona wanted to make it clear he’s “hugely honored” Cora asked him to be in the dugout during the game, and that the entire Red Sox staff earned the right to be in the spotlight with the World Series win last season.
“They deserve to be in the middle of what’s going on,” Francona said. “I’d kinda like to step back a little bit.”
And enjoy the show.
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