FORT MYERS, Fla. - It’s the start of a new career and a new life.
Managing may be in the rear-view mirror (for now), but it is never far from Terry Francona's psyche. He went after the St. Louis Cardinals job after leaving the Red Sox last fall but didn’t get it. He said he spoke briefly to Theo Epstein, but both realized the fit wasn’t right for him to manage the Chicago Cubs.
So Francona took a job with ESPN, keeping his foot in the game after a hectic offseason that followed eight seasons with the Red Sox.
Looking more relaxed than he has in years, Francona greeted many well-wishers Thursday when he showed up at JetBlue Park for the Red Sox-Yankees exhibition game.
Former players also came over for a hug or a pat on the back.
“What are you doing over there with those guys?’’ yelled Dustin Pedroia as Francona addressed the media. “You’re one of them now.’’
Francona admitted to an embarrassing incident upon his arrival: he got lost and ran out of gas on the highway with colleagues Dan Shulman and Claire Smith in the car. Francona and Shulman ended up pushing the SUV up Route 75, with Smith steering.
A fellow stopped to save the day, and Francona said it turned out to be “the same guy that installed my cable at the old ballpark last year. I gave him some drinking money, and he gave me a ride back.
“That was vintage my life.’’
Calling his first Red Sox game was “a little awkward,’’ he acknowledged, but he said, “I’m just trying to do the best I can.
“It’s the same as being a manager. Wake up and try and be prepared. It’s certainly different and I’ve enjoyed it.’’
Francona doesn’t plan to be too critical in his new role.
“There’s a way to say what’s going on,’’ he said. “You don’t have to be a bad person. I’ll be myself.’’
Francona spent time with new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, sharing a couple of laughs.
As for his own managerial career, Francona said he probably needs to take a step back before he can go forward.
“My passion is being on the field,’’ he said. “But I think it would be really healthy for me to step back and look at things without so much emotion. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year.
“If it ever comes about and it makes sense, I would certainly [consider it]. But it has to make sense. I don’t want to just manage for the sake of managing.’’
He also said it was too soon to consider going back to Fenway Park to be part of its 100th anniversary.
“I’m not quite ready for the hugs yet,’’ he said. “I’m still trying to stop the bleeding.’’
Francona said the parting with the Red Sox was difficult.
“When you go 7-17 [to end the season], especially as a manager, you open yourself up for criticism and you probably deserve to be criticized,’’ he said. “I thought I tried to take responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there were things that needed to be done. My voice wasn’t necessarily the one that was doing the best job at that point. I thought I was pretty open and honest about that.
“What happened after that hurt me a lot. It probably always will. The best thing to do is try to move on. Carrying grudges is not real healthy. I spent eight years there and we did a lot of good stuff.’’
Francona had a conversation with Red Sox owner John Henry a few weeks ago but felt it was a little too late.
“We should have had that conversation a few weeks before that, but it was good,’’ said said. “I’m glad we had a chance to talk.’’Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.