SAN DIEGO: There might have been no better week to illustrate Indians manager Terry Francona’s personal touch than the past seven days.
At every turn, Francona was creating a special moment. Those moments touched minor-leaguers Nick Hamilton, Tony Wolters and Jerrud Sabourin and their families, along with relievers Blake Wood and Scott Atchison.
Friday and Saturday’s trip to San Diego for two games against the Padres at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Field was just the latest example.
They were meaningless exhibitions on the way to the Indians’ season-opening three-game series at Oakland that begins Monday. But Wolters and Sabourin wouldn’t agree.
Wolters, a 21-year-old catcher and infielder, grew up in Vista, Calif. Sabourin, a 24-year-old first baseman, was born in La Jolla and lives in San Diego. When Francona was choosing minor-leaguers to take for the games against the Padres, he picked those two for the traveling party so they could return home.
“There’s no reason not to let the human side … it’s not going to cost us a game during the year,” Francona said before the Indians lost to the Padres 9-8. “It’s good for [Wolters]. His family probably thinks it’s awesome and he’s a great kid to boot.”
About 30 friends and family members were seated in the left-field bleachers, including his mother, Debbie Wolters, 58.
“We were totally surprised when Tony called and said he was coming,” she said. “It was a very special thing he was able to do this. Last night we had a handful of people from our hometown church, including the priest that gave him his first communion.
“For Tony this is just like heaven. I told him, ‘Don’t get used to it, you’ll be back on the bus before you know it.’?”
The gestures with Wolters and Sabourin were a continuation of the magical memories Francona began creating on Monday.
For a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark, a mixup with the National League’s Reds over whether to use a designated hitter left the Indians without one. So Francona looked at his minor-leaguers and spied outfielder Nick Hamilton, the 24-year-old son of Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton. Francona started Nick, who must wear a hearing aid because of severe hearing loss, and batted him ninth. His father, who was not working, watched from a booth upstairs as Nick went 0-for-4.
Later Monday, Francona told Wood he’d made the Opening Day roster when he came to the mound to take him out. Later when he spoke to Atchison, he reminded him what he’d said during their final series together with the Boston Red Sox in 2011. In the tunnel in Camden Yards, Francona told Atchison, “Wherever I am, there will be a day you can pitch for me again.”
“He’s doing what he can to make little special moments for people,” Wood said. “That goes a long way with guys.
“They could have called me in the office and told me and I would have remembered I made Opening Day. But I wouldn’t have remembered it the way he ended up doing it. He cares about people. He brings it to the next level; he makes it mean something.”
Right-hander Justin Masterson first saw Francona’s personal touches when he pitched in 67 games for the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009.
“You could go down two or three lists that Tito does behind the scenes, things so little that get guys to respect him,” Masterson said. “Those things let you know he cares about you. It doesn’t mean you’ll always have success or be on the team. But either way, you know wherever you are, his heart is with you.”
Danny Salazar pitched five innings and gave up six runs (five earned) as the Indians (20-9-2) closed out the spring schedule. Yonder Alonso hit a three-run double to the wall in center field off Salazar in the third inning and Chase Headley homered to left center in the fifth. The starter for Friday’s home opener, Salazar had his ERA jump from 1.69 ERA to 5.23.
Matt Carson homered twice and drove in five runs, and Jason Kipnis homered for the Tribe.
Extension for Gomes
The Indians and catcher Yan Gomes have reached an agreement on a contract extension. The deal reportedly is for six years and about $23 million. The Indians confirmed the agreement Saturday night and are expected to announce the signing during the opening series in Oakland.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.