Tito, Theo receive warm welcome in return to Boston

Former Sox manager and GM appear at writers awards dinner

Tito, Theo receive warm welcome in return to Boston

BOSTON -- For Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, Thursday was a night of recognition and reminiscing, but also a happy homecoming.

They were at the Boston Baseball Writers Awards Dinner on behalf of the Indians and Cubs, the two teams who staged an epic World Series less than three months ago.

Epstein, whose Cubs won in a seven-game thriller, was recognized by the Boston writers as the Executive of the Year in MLB. Francona was chosen as the game's top manager.

Francona -- Boston's manager from 2004-11 -- got a loud, sustained standing ovation upon receiving his award. Francona displayed his usual humor and humility.

"I didn't feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning," Francona quipped to the audience. "I'd really like to thank the Boston baseball writers, and that's something you don't hear from the manager very often. I'd also like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale out of the Central Division."

Francona on staying in moment

In truth, Francona was touched by the crowd's reaction.

"I was stunned," Francona said. "I thought it was for somebody else. There's no baseball place like Boston."

Without question, this night affirmed that Francona and Epstein remain beloved in Boston from the days they competed with each other, instead of against each other.

Epstein also received an ovation.

"This was going to be a really good speech until Tito asked me to meet him at the bar beforehand," Epstein said. "Being back home and seeing everybody has me thinking about how lucky I've been to work with such great people at the Red Sox, and the impact it's had on me and how much I've learned from them and how all of us are just products of the good things we've been lucky enough to pick up from the people we've worked with along the way."

Epstein talks Red Sox vs. Cubs

While Francona and Epstein are now doing their work in the Midwest, those championship flags from 2004 and 2007 will stay on the façade at Fenway Park forever.

"You can't spend eight years in a place and not have a lot of great memories, and have a lot of friends," Francona said. "If you see them once a year, it doesn't matter, it's better than none."

Hours before the dinner, Francona shared a bunch of laughs with current Red Sox manager John Farrell, one of his best friends. There was also some family time.

"I got to see grandkids," Francona said. "It means I'm getting old but it's nice to see John, to get to see so many faces."

One of those faces, of course, was Epstein, the man who hired him to manage the Red Sox 13 years ago.

Francona will remain forever grateful for Epstein's visit to his office after the classic Game 7 back in November.

"It's so raw when it's over, that it's hard to know what to think. You spend all your energy trying to win and when you don't, it hurts," Francona said. "So once I took care of our guys, everybody had left and I was kind of just sitting there -- I actually was showering -- and Theo came over by himself, which I thought was really nice.

"Because it's probably not an easy thing to pull off. He's in a suit and he smells like champagne, yet he was comfortable enough to come over. I thought that was really, really nice of him to do that."

Given his Boston roots, it's only natural for Red Sox fans to still treat Epstein with warmth. The same dynamic exists for Francona, even after his Indians swept the Red Sox in last season's Division Series.

"It actually amazes me," Francona said. "I also think that maybe people realize I'm kind of a normal person. I made more than my share of mistakes, but still show up and try my best to do everything I can for my team. And I think in this town especially, if people know you're trying, they appreciate that."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.