Indians manager Terry Francona was about 8 years old when he starting going to the ballpark with his father Tito, who played 15 years in the major leagues, six with the Indians from 1959-64.
Tito was with the Atlanta Braves in 1967 when Terry got his first taste of the big leagues. Children weren’t allowed in the clubhouse, so he had to amuse himself. He and his dad would leave for the park around 2 in the afternoon.
“I’m running around outside. I’d find a bat boy or some pitcher who wanted to play catch with an 8-year-old,” Francona recalled Saturday before the Indians' 3-2 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. “When batting practice started I’d go out and shag. When the other team would hit I would go up in the stands with the other kids and try to catch home runs.
“Before the game I would run down real quick, go to the (clubhouse) door and my dad would give me a dollar. A Chick-Fil-A sandwich was 75 cents. I had to make a decision. I’d either get a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and nothing else, or I could maybe get peanuts and a Coke. It taught me some responsibility.”
When he did somehow manage to get into the clubhouse, Francona said he would fill his pockets with candy, figuring he was being sly and no one would find out.
“My dad knew the whole time, he’s paying the clubbie,” Francona said.
Francona tagged along for about three years before his dad retired when he was 111/2 and there was only one day he was not allowed to go to the park. His dad was playing for the Phillies and they were in Pittsburgh to face the Pirates, so Tito was staying at their home in New Brighton, Pa.
“I did something and my mom was (ticked),” Francona said. “She’s like, ‘When your dad comes home, you’re not going to the ballpark.’ I’m like, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ He came home and said, ‘I heard you acted up. Can’t go today.’ He was devastated, but what are you going to do?
“I threw a fit and didn’t handle it very well. Then I got it together because I knew I wanted to go the next day.”
Francona doesn’t believe the memories are more special now than they were then.
“I don’t know how it could be more meaningful than it was then. I was an 11-year-old who had gone to heaven before his time,” Francona said.
He believes he learned many valuable lessons.
“My dad knew I was not going to be disrespectful to a baseball player. That’s probably a pretty good lesson,” Francona said. “For me I couldn’t think of a better way to grow up because it’s all I ever wanted to do. I’m sure my dad had something to do with that. It wasn’t like he had to drag me to the ballpark. Man, I was waiting.”
During their time in Atlanta, Francona would kill time waiting to leave their apartment by throwing baseballs at the brick wall of the building next door. That’s where Claude Raymond, a relief pitcher and one of his father’s best friends, lived.
“Years later Claude said, ‘I wanted to kill you. That ball hitting that wall at 8 o’clock in the morning,’” Francona said.
“I’d drive home with them every night. I’d sit in the back and him and Claude would talk about the game. I guarantee you I was the only 8-year-old who knew you threw up and in, down and away. I listened to everything.”