CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli knows very well what it means to put on a Boston Red Sox jersey, but that will mean little to him when he steps between the lines at Progressive Field tonight.
When the Indians host the Red Sox for Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Napoli has one singular focus, and that is to do what is necessary to make sure Cleveland comes out victorious.
“I have a lot of friends, but once we step in-between them lines, I’m trying to help my team win in any way I can,” said Napoli, who spent two-plus seasons in Boston before being traded to Texas last year. “I definitely want to go out there and do what I can to help us win. When we step on the field, we’re still friends, but I want to win.”
Napoli is not the only member of the Indians with strong ties to Boston.
Manager Terry Francona held the same position with the Red Sox from 2004 through 2011, and led Boston to a pair of World Series championships, something the city had not experienced since 1918.
“I would be excited to play anybody anywhere,” Francona said. “It’s the playoffs. I do think that the way we’ve played this year, we’re a worthy opponent. I think we will hold our own. The idea is to win one more game than them. We’ll see if we’re good enough. It’ll be fun finding out.
“Whatever my feelings were, are, they need to remain that way. It’s unfair to the players on both teams. Both teams have accomplished so much to get here. It needs to be about the players. Whatever my personal feelings are, they need to stay just that.”
On the Red Sox bench in the same seat that Francona once filled is his close friend and former Cleveland pitcher John Farrell. But to Francona, the series is less about the managers, and more about the men they put on the field for the games.
“Our players are going to decide this,” Francona said. “I have mixed emotions. He’s one of my best friends in the whole world outside of baseball, so it pulls at you a little bit. I guess the way I look at it is it’s an honor to be able to compete against them. I’m including him in that.
“It’s certainly all systems go, but I enjoyed the whole way pretty much. There are certain days that are probably longer than others, but I guess I would consider myself pretty lucky. I get to come to a place to work that I love and do it with people that I really care about, a team. It’s about the least amount of babysitting I’ve ever seen in my career, so it’s been fun.”