BOSTON -- John Farrell knows what’s coming.
Even with an early rise Monday for the Patriots’ Day start, the Red Sox manager woke to find his cellphone already buzzing with text messages about Tuesday’s game against Cleveland -- Boston's first against former manager Terry Francona.
“It’s always fun,” Farrell said of the prospect of managing against Francona, “whether it’s the conversation before or the game that takes place inside of it. I know one thing, they’ve got a very good lineup and they’ll be well-prepared.”
Farrell, who served as pitching coach for four seasons under Francona, reflected on their personal history before Monday’s matinee with the Tampa Bay Rays. He chronicled his initial move to Boston, which developed after a late-night, in-person pitch from Francona in a Florida hotel room. Farrell was then the director of player development for the Indians and Francona was intent on bringing him aboard.
“We sat in a hotel room, drank a couple of beers and talked about where it could possibly lead,” Farrell said.
The pitch worked and Farrell joined his former Indians teammate in Boston.
Yet, as persuasive as Francona was in luring Farrell into the fold, he was equally as supportive when Farrell was ready to take the next step in his career. Following the tumult that cost Francona his job in 2010, he remained a source of council and a listening ear to Farrell.
“As opportunities emerged prior to finally making the move, he was always curious as to why, why not now? What are you waiting for?” Farrell recalled. “That to me, not to be over-presumptuous about anything, but that’s what made it a special place to work.”
It was also during that 2010 season that Jon Lester last found All-Star form.
Lester described his working relationship with Francona as good, but the two shared an extra element during Tito’s tenure in Boston. After Lester was on the mound for the deciding Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, Francona characterized his emotions watching Lester -- considering his comeback from lymphoma earlier that year -- as what a father would have for a son.
“If I ever needed anything, just needed a place to talk or vent or whatever, he always had an ear or shoulder to lean on or whatever,” Lester said before Monday’s game. “I think the biggest thing, and you can kind of see it with all the other homegrown guys, I think he had a different, special place for those guys than guys who were free agents who were brought in. Guys like that -- like [Dustin Pedroia], [Jacoby Ellsbury] and me and [Clay Buchholz] -- seems like he had a little extra niche, feeling, whatever it was for us, just because we had been in this organization and come up and succeeded.”
That connection was evident, even to Lester’s teammates. One day after Buchholz nearly spun the second no-hitter of his career, he called to mind the image of Francona looking on proudly as Lester worked his no-no. It not only was a marker of a special player-manager relationship, but a testament to Tito’s connection to his players.
“It made you feel good about the guy who was in charge of your team,” Buchholz added.
Despite the way his tenure in Boston ended, that is very much a part of the legacy Francona imparted on his players and staff.
“He had a knack and such a way to connect with so many different people and bring them all to a common point,” Farrell said. “Players all loved playing for him, they ran through the wall for him. He had a way of making every player know or feel that he was behind them and supported them, and if there were any issues -- which there were -- it was handled in an appropriate way.”