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Francona returns as a member of the media

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 22, 2012 05:05 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was odd to see Terry Francona leaning against the dugout railing at JetBlue Park during batting practice wearing loafers, khakis and am ESPN golf shirt instead of a Red Sox uniform.

For the first time since his departure from the Red Sox, Francona is at one of their games as a member of the media. It also was the first time he saw JetBlue Park, a facility that may not stand if not for the success he led the Red Sox to during his eight years as manager.

"It's a little awkward for me," he admitted.

Francona was here last night, arriving early to meet some friends for dinner and spend time with the ESPN crew. True to form, he got lost driving around and ran out of gas on the highway with Dan Shulman and ESPN staffer Claire Smith in the car.

Francona and Shulman ended up pushing his SUV a bit before setting out to walk to a gas station. Somebody stopped and gave him a ride. The Good Samaritan happened to be a local cable television installer who had fixed the television in his old office at City of Palms Park.

"That was vintage my life," Francona said.

Francona is still getting used to being a television analyst. Shulman, he said, has made it easy for him.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can. It's the same as being a manager," he said. "Wake up and try and be prepared. It's certainly different and I've enjoyed it."

Francona doesn't plan to be too critical. "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."

As Francona was speaking to reporters, David Ortiz came up and hugged up. Dustin Pedroia waked by, saw the crowd and yelled, "Why you talking to these guys? You're one of them now."

Francona then spent time with some of his former players around the batting cage and in the dugout. He also talked briefly with Bobby Valentine.

Shulman, Orel Hershiser and some other ESPN people spent time with Valentine, their former colleague.

On other topics:

• Francona said he wants to get back on the field but would be selective. "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," he said. "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."

• Francona said it was too early to consider going back to Fenway to be honored. "I'm not quote ready for the hugs yet," he said. "I'm still trying to stop the bleeding."

Francona said that parting ways with the Red Sox was difficult because of how quickly everything happened once the season ended.

“When you go 7-17, especially as a manager, you open yourself up for criticism and you probably deserve to be criticized. I thought I tried to take responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there were things that needed to be done," he said. "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."

• Just so you know, the ESPN telecast will be blacked out in Boston and New York because NESN and YES are carrying the game, too.

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