CLEVELAND: When it comes to sports, Boston is a hot-button town, and the Red Sox generate more heat than any team in New England.
Consequently, Terry Francona’s first trip to Fenway Park as a rival manager tonight is sure to bring out the media hordes, curious to quiz the Indians’ skipper on his frame of mind and his thoughts about his former club and its fans.
Every indication is that the Fenway Faithful never stopped believing in Francona, even after he was forced from his job in the wake of the team’s collapse in 2011, when the Sox lost 21 of their last 29 games to blow a commanding lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card race.
Stories emerged about indifferent players eating fried chicken, drinking beer and playing video games in the clubhouse while the season was disintegrating out on the field. In the end, it was Francona who became the scapegoat.
Now that he is returning, what does he feel?
“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Francona said Wednesday. “I’m sure I’ll have a lot of emotions. The one thing I want to remind myself is that this game is tough enough to play, and I don’t want our guys having extra baggage during that series. Whatever feelings I’m having, I’ll deal with them.
“I’m proud to go back there as an Indian. I don’t want that to ever get lost in the shuffle.”
Francona isn’t concerned about the fan reaction one way or the other.
“I don’t really think about stuff like that,” he said. “I never really spent much time. It’s just not part of what I’m hopefully about.”
Francona was Justin Masterson’s manager in Boston, though the Tribe starter was already in Cleveland during the Red Sox’s darkest hours of 2011.
“I think fans should be cheering, overjoyed and excited,” Masterson said of Francona’s return. “I mean he put Boston on the map. He helped revitalize the city by bringing Red Sox Nation back. It hadn’t really been much before he got there and he helped, along with many other people, to put them back on the map.
“He helped end the curse, didn’t he? Twice.”
Francona didn’t deny that returning to Fenway will be an emotional experience, but it’s doubtful he’ll wear his feelings on his sleeve.
“I don’t think he will let anyone see if it’s emotional for him,” Masterson said. “But I think the caring individual that he is, there’s always going to be a soft spot in his heart for Boston and for Fenway Park and for everything that took place there.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.