Francona prepared to defend title

Francona prepared to defend title

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Managing the Boston Red Sox was once considered the ultimate hot seat. That is no longer the case. Under the leadership of Terry Francona, the Red Sox have won the World Series twice in the last four seasons. Francona is a savvy game tactician, while at the same time relating well to his players. A few days after signing a contract extension that could keep him in a Boston uniform through 2013, Francona took a few minutes out of his day to answer a variety of questions from How much more at ease are you right now to have the security the Red Sox gave you with the recent contract extension?

Francona: You know what's interesting is, the day we signed it, I talked about it and probably got a little emotional. Now that it's over, it's just baseball. But the fact I'm not answering other questions like, 'This is your last year,' I think this enables me to just talk about baseball. Sure, I'm excited the way it worked out, because now I can just talk about baseball. How do you handle Boston so well, and everything that comes with it?

Francona: You know what? I don't think I always have handled it that well. My second year, and me and Theo [Epstein] had a talk about this, I thought people were taking some shots. Maybe I just heard it more. I don't know. And Theo noticed it in my personality. We sat down and had a very honest talk after the season was over, which I respected and appreciated the way he handled it. He had to tell me some things that weren't necessarily positive, and he did it. He was right. So I kind of tried to get myself to look in the mirror a little bit and hopefully I have made some adjustments. It's not always easy and it's not always perfect, but I think I do understand it. You have a very good balancing act with the players where you have a good rapport with all of them. But they also respect you as a boss and they're not going to walk all over you. How do you walk that line?

Francona: That's our job. We tell the guys on the first day of Spring Training, we'll bust our [butt] to create an atmosphere where these guys, they want to do the right thing consistently. If we do that, friendships, relationships, those things will take care of themselves. Guys that aren't playing aren't always going to be happy with me. I understand that. My job is to do the right thing for the organization and to treat the players with respect. If you do that, you get through the hurdles, the tough times, and the good times are great. One thing you keep getting asked about this spring is 2005. Is there one thing you learned from that experience of trying to defend the title that might help you and your team this year?

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Francona: Yeah, going through it, of course you learn. But one thing that sort of gets lost in the translation is that we talked about how none of us had ever gone through it before, but on the flip side, we won 95 games that year. We got beat up pitching-wise and those were a hard 95 games to win. I don't want to just say, 'Hey, the guys didn't show up, they didn't work.' There were a lot of things on the periphery. That was how that team did things.

This team is a little more business-like. In the early stages of camp this year, they did everything we asked and that's what you ask for. How do you prepare to be good? Let's prepare and they did that. How is Spring Training different this year just in having 23 of the 25 guys that you won the World Series with back in the fold?

Francona: It's easier to get your work done. I think people think maybe you back off. But for us, we just can get our work done because guys know what to expect, we know what to expect, so a lot of the stuff we're doing, we're reviewing. But you have an obligation to the new guys to go over it. Again, you're already sort of on that same page and you can tweak some things, but it's easier to get your work done. Losing Curt Schilling before camp even started, how much of a blow was that to have a major injury so quickly?

Francona: You kind of figure going through the season, you're going to lose players or pitching. But to lose someone before the guy even throws a pitch, that's tough. But we talk all the time about needing to have enough depth to handle things. We need to. Still, Schill is a pretty good big-game pitcher. But he's not the 230-inning guy anymore, so hopefully we have the depth where we can handle it. The center-field situation, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp, what's that going to be like for you to handle this spring?

Francona: I don't think going through Spring Training it's an issue because they're going to play just like they would have. That's the way Spring Training is. They have to get ready for the season. The issue is, when we break camp and somebody is in the Opening Day starting lineup, that's when there's going to be communication that needs to happen. Right now, they're going to go play just like they would. Coco's not going to play seven games in a row. Ellsbury's not going to play seven games in a row. But when we get to the point where the season starts, that's when we're going to have to make sure our communication is flawless. Is there one thing that concerns you going into the season, or something you're particularly curious about?

Francona: There's probably not one thing I'm not. Even David [Ortiz], 'OK, make sure David's knee is OK.' That's our job. It's not to worry, but I think to just be concerned about everything. But I think we like our team. We should. Now we have to go prepare and go play. How hard is it not to think about March 19, the day you go to Japan? Obviously camp has been shortened by a good 10-12 days and everything is accelerated.

Francona: We have to prepare for it because we're leaving. But we're going to turn it into a positive. There's a time in Spring Training where the position players start getting bored. That probably is not going to happen this year. We'll make some adjustments. We don't want that to dictate the way we get ready for a season. But it's our job to make some adjustments. How special is it to be part of what might one day be looked at as the Golden Era of Red Sox baseball?

Francona: It's addicting. The winter was short. I didn't care. I was so happy to put this uniform on and come back and work. I know that once the season starts and we get into the grind, I'll have bags under my eyes. But if you like baseball, this is the best. I know that. That's why I wanted to re-up. We're going through a pretty special time, or it has a chance to be a pretty special time. We'll see if we can keep it going.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.