They are baseball guys.
Living, breathing seamheads whose lives are baseball 24/7.
Terry Francona spent a year at ESPN, watching baseball for a living, until he got the itch again. He is now managing the Cleveland Indians.
It turned out that the old baseball guy was in town at the same time his dear friend John Farrell was having his first chemotherapy treatment Tuesday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital.
So, what did he do? He showed up at the hospital at 7:20 a.m. with his bench coach, Brad Mills, who was the Red Sox’ bench coach in Boston when Farrell was the pitching coach under Francona.
They sat and talked for a long time after Farrell’s treatment, a good sign in that Farrell was able to tolerate the conversation and the company. What we know is that Francona, Mills, and later Indians general manager Chris Antonetti visited with Farrell, who once worked for the Indians as farm director.
They exchanged stories and spoke about old times — anything to get Farrell laughing.
It’s not known whether Farrell had other visitors or whether his family was around him. But Francona is like family to Farrell.
When you spend a full season together — spring training, regular season, and sometimes postseason — your time with teammates and coaches and managers is longer than the time with your own family. That’s what baseball’s long season does — it creates new families, new friendships, that don’t exist in other walks of life, other than maybe the military, firefighters, and police officers.
Before Tuesday night’s game between the Indians and Red Sox at Fenway Park, Francona didn’t want to speak for Farrell or give any updates. He said it wasn’t his place. But judging by the laughs Francona said they all had, Farrell must have felt well enough to absorb Francona’s barbs.
“I don’t want to be the John Farrell medical update person,” Francona said. “I don’t think that’s fair to him.
“Millsie and I went over there together. Anyone who knows Millsie, that’s not surprising. I’m glad we went. I’d rather let John say what he wants to. That’s his business.
“We spent a lot of time telling stories, most of which are probably not true.”
Francona kidded Farrell: “I told him point blank, I’m not here as your friend. And you owe me $20 [for the cab].”
Asked how it felt to be with Farrell, Francona said, “It didn’t feel good because of the circumstances. I didn’t really think about it. He’s my friend. Millsie is every bit the friend to everyone. I appreciated Millsie doing that. I think John was happy to see him.
“I was glad under the circumstances we could be there. Sometimes things happen in strange ways. I feel grateful, for whatever reason, we got to be here.”
On Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon day, it was a reminder that Francona was always involved with the Jimmy Fund during his eight years managing in Boston.
“The Jimmy Fund is incredible,” Francona said. “The work they do, I’ve seen it firsthand. When I was in town eight years, I’d go on radio and make a donation. I’m guessing my donation will be a little bit more because it needs to be.”
Francona has always taken care of his friends. He’s always been a caring guy. He understands baseball people because he grew up in the game. He traveled all over with his dad, Tito. He grew up in major league clubhouses, knew major league players, and understood the culture at a young age.
I remember covering him as a 35-year-old manager of the Birmingham Barons in 1994, the year Michael Jordan played for him. He also managed Jordan in the Arizona Fall League that season. The publicity contributed to Francona being named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997.
Phillies GM Lee Thomas, who didn’t know Francona personally, hired him in part based on what he saw of Francona in dealing with the year with Jordan.
Francona has a lifetime of stories and memories. He’s one of the great storytellers in the game. You can see how someone such as he could provide comfort to Farrell.
Farrell has said he owes a lot to Francona. Farrell has tried to duplicate Francona’s amazing ability to interact with players and make them feel good about themselves. Francona learned that from the long list of managers he played for. So, what better guy to make you feel better?
Francona always thought he was the luckiest manager going, having a pitching coach such as Farrell to take on that huge responsibility. They won a championship together in Boston. When Francona lost Farrell to the Toronto Blue Jays, it seemed he lost a coach he completely trusted and had faith in. That wasn’t restored for a while.
After the September 2011 debacle, Francona picked himself up and got back to being a baseball guy.
From that, Francona has been able to help a lot of people. The caring and love he’s shown for Mike Aviles’s young daughter, who also is battling cancer, has been a heartwarming sidebar to the Indians’ season.
And now, another friend is in need. And we bet John Farrell is happy that Francona stopped by to help ease what had to be a frightening day.