There wasn’t enough time for Terry Francona’s mind to wander. Not after sitting through two rain delays Wednesday night in Cleveland that stretched his Indians’ 11-7 loss to the Tigers out over 3 hours and 33 minutes.
He then was headed to Boston for the first time as a manager since leaving the Red Sox in the aftermath of a woebegone 2011 season that is still painful in some ways.
He could have spent the flight daydreaming about how the fans would embrace him, what it would feel like to return to the place where for years he was soaked in success. But he didn’t.
“I fell asleep on the plane,” he said.
By the time the Indians arrived at their hotel, it was 4 a.m.
“I was so grumpy it didn’t even matter,” said Francona, addressing the media Thursday before the Indians and Red Sox began a four-game series at Fenway Park.
Since leaving the Red Sox, Francona has worked as an ESPN analyst and written a book. But he also took the time to recharge and reevaluate, before ultimately accepting the job to manage the Indians, who are the surprise of the season’s early stage with an AL Central-leading 26-19 record.
Looking relaxed and rejuvenated as he met the media in the visitors dugout, Francona said he was enjoying his present situation too much to let his thoughts drift far into the past or the future.
“I don’t spend any time thinking about that,” Francona said. “It’s just not the way I’m built. These were really special years here and sometimes they’re tough.
“But these are some of the best fans in the world and they care about their team more than … it’s unbelievable. If you like baseball, this is a good place to be, and I got to be a part of that. I feel very fortunate for that.”
Francona got to Fenway Park early in the afternoon, knowing how busy the day would be. So many things were the same.
“Whether you come into the ballpark and make a right or a left, the people are still the same,” he said.
He set up shop in the visitors clubhouse and quickly remembered how close the quarters are.
“It hit me in a hurry,” he said.
He was able to speak to Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who made sure to let Francona know how hot he has been at the plate.
“And when he’s not hot, he still worries me,” Francona said.
Pedroia knew as well as anyone how Francona would approach the day.
“Knowing him, it’s probably just another day,” Pedroia said. “This place is very special to him, but I’m sure he just wants to go out there and manage the game.”
Francona also touched base with close friend John Farrell, the first-year Sox manager, though they spared the trash-talking text messages.
“But the four days have just begun,” Farrell said. “I’m sure they’ll be floating back and forth at some point.”
Francona seemed immersed in his new job, leading a Cleveland team that has won 18 of 24 and has the best record in the majors since April 20. He acknowledged that the bitter ending in Boston — despite mostly fond memories overall — is still painful.
He also said that he loves being in the dugout and has benefited from a clean slate in Cleveland.
“When you’re the manager of the Red Sox, it can take a toll on you,” Francona said. “I was here eight years. Like I’ve said, it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world but also one of the hardest, and towards the end there, it was taking a toll on me.
“I think I caught myself maybe not being as patient as I would’ve liked to have been or maybe getting stubborn.
“So you take a year away and it allows you to kind of recharge, not just evaluate things but you can almost reevaluate yourself, too. Then you get a new, fresh start and you try to be the person where the positives are coming out.
“I like where I’m at, and maybe for where I’m at in my life and baseball, this is a really good place for me. I’m really comfortable with where I’m working and who I’m working with.
“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have challenges, because we are. But I am enjoying the idea of tackling them with the people I’m with.”