CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has been on quite the emotional rollercoaster in the team’s return to the postseason for the first time in four years.
The Indians faced off and swept Francona’s former team, the Boston Red Sox, who are managed by one of his best friends, John Farrell, in the American League Division Series. And now, after advancing to the American League Championship Series for the first time in the last nine years, the Indians will face the Toronto Blue Jays, who are run by their former president, Mark Shapiro, and key player personnel executive, Ross Atkins.
“You know what? This is actually unbelievable,” Francona said. “For Ross and Mark, I don’t think people realize the tree. So many front-office people have come out of here. It’s incredible. It started with John Hart and Mark, and now, with Chris (Antonetti), but it’s probably a little easier for me because they’re not in uniform.
“Mark and Ross, I’m so close to both of them that it’ll be fun to say hello. I’m sure they feel the same way that we do. They want to beat our brains out, but then, when it’s over, that’s never going to affect a friendship.
“Next time I probably see them will be at the winter meetings, and we’ll be laughing. I’m sure something will happen that we’ll be laughing about. It never changes. It could be a year. It could be a month. It could be two years. When you’re friends like that, it kind of goes beyond time and uniform or anything like that.”
Although Francona and Shapiro are on opposite sides of the ALCS after spending three years together at the top of the Indians’ organization, the manager will always have an appreciation for what Shapiro did in Cleveland.
“He was able to use the words that I want to use, and he’d use them in the right context and it didn’t seem like he was reaching,” Francona said. “But every time he would talk, you’d be like, ‘Damn! Why can’t I think of that?’
“We were in organizational meetings and we were all tired. We’d been sitting there all day, and he spoke for about 10 minutes. I remember grabbing Millsies’ pen because I didn’t have one and taking notes because I wanted to use it in our team meeting the next spring. He’s phenomenally smart, but his people skills to match make him so special.”
While admitting to the intense level of competition between former teammates and lifelong friends, Francona wants the focus to remain squarely on what happens with the players who step on the field for nine innings every night.
“It was probably a little extra,” Francona said of beating Boston. “I don’t think that’s lying. I don’t think it was fair to anybody to ever, one time say that during a series. It’s so hard for players on both teams to get where they are, and certainly, I care about our players.
“Every one of those players deserves the chance to shine in October, and I don’t believe it’s ever supposed to be about me. I’ve always felt that way. I know there’s extenuating circumstances in Boston. I get why it’s asked, but I don’t think that would’ve been using good judgment on my part.”