CLEVELAND — Only two city blocks separate Progressive Field from Terry Francona’s apartment in downtown Cleveland, making for a short daily stroll to the office for the new Indians manager.
In theory, anyway.
Francona got lost Monday morning walking to the ballpark for the team’s home opener. Not once, not twice. But three times.
"Even when I got to the garage two people who work here said, ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ I said, ‘Nope,’ " said Francona, who eventually caught a ride on a golf cart driven by a team employee.
Soon everything felt right again for Francona, the two-time world champion manager whose arrival here is renewing interest in a club that has not reached the postseason since 2007. His father, Tito, a former player with the Tribe, was on hand to throw a ceremonial pregame pitch. And Cleveland’s opponent, the New York Yankees, rang a familiar tune to the former Boston skipper who guided the Red Sox to a 75-72 mark from 2004-11 in one of baseball’s heated rivalries. Francona quipped that working in such a tense environment "made me older."
"One of the things I’ve learned through that experience was each game means one game," Francona said. "People are expecting you to use your closer every game and to never give guys a day off. It doesn’t work."
Francona is unlikely to endure that level of pressure in Cleveland, where fans carry tempered expectations for a team that lost 90 games in three of the last four seasons. Francona learned of the city’s benevolence Monday on his extended commute to work.
"Cleveland is officially the nicest people I've ever met," he said. "Everybody I did walk by said hello. That's a little different than I'm used to."
HAFNER RETURNS: There were preliminary discussions in the winter, but the Indians and Travis Hafner ultimately parted ways, ending a complicated 10-year relationship. Hafner, who signed a one-year deal with the Yankees on Feb. 1, indicated Cleveland’s desire to not carry a full-time designated hitter played a role in the split.
"There was some interest on both sides, and I wasn’t sure how it would play out," said Hafner, who set Cleveland records for a DH with 187 home runs and 650 RBIs.
Hafner, who said he dropped 15 pounds in the offseason to alleviate strain on his often-injured body, is 35. Frequent trips to the disabled list were his undoing in Cleveland, as he failed to make good on a four-year, $57 million deal he signed in 2007. Hafner was limited to 66 games in his final season with the Tribe, batting .228 with 12 HRs and 34 RBIs. He is off to a decent start with the Yankees, ranking second on the team with seven hits after six games.
"They obviously had a great offseason, a lot of roster turnover," Hafner said of Cleveland. "They’ve been playing well, and I think there’s a lot of talent throughout the team. It’s good to see them back doing well."
BUNTS: Francona said Jason Giambi, set to come off the disabled list today, could makes his Indians debut this series, but it won’t be today against Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte. ... Regarding notorious slow starter Mark Reynolds hammering four homers in the first six games, Francona said, "There’s going to be games where it’s miss, miss, miss, bang. If you pull the plug and get impatient, you’re going to miss the bang."
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