SON OF A MAJOR LEAGUER
- Terry is the son of Tito Francona, who played 15 years in the Major Leagues. Terry says, "My Dad never coached me. Not once. When I'd come in from a game he'd ask me only two things. Did I play the game right? Did I have fun? And if the answer to both those questions was yes, that was all right. It didn't matter if we'd won or lost or how many hits I had."
When Francona was in high school, he broke a school record for the golf team. He asked his coach, Drew Szabo, the name of the player who held the record before him. The answer: Rodney Oxenhurdt, a well-liked kid who had died in a car accident and whose name had been preserved on a trophy at New Brighton. Francona paused, then told Szabo to leave Oxenhurdt's name on the trophy.
That is Terry Francona. (Sean Deveney-The Sporting News-10/01/07)
Terry recalled spending time at the park with his father.
“I think my dad’s last three or four years, I went to the ballpark with him just about every day,’’ Francona said. “You weren’t allowed in the clubhouse. I’d run in and grab some candy. I thought I was sneaking it and then I’d go run around.’’
Francona said Al Downing and Rick Monday were among his favorite players because they were willing to play catch with him.
“All it takes when you’re 8, 9, 10 years old is somebody to say hello to you,’’ Francona said. “That kind of does it. There was always somebody on every team, somebody willing to let a 10-year-old get in the way and play catch with.’’
A grouchy Gene Mauch, on the other hand, once kicked Francona out of the clubhouse.
In 1970, his father’s last season, Francona went on a 10-day August road trip with the Brewers to Minnesota, Chicago, and Kansas City. “Back then you didn’t do that,’’ Francona said.
But manager Dave Bristol, “a grizzled baseball guy,’’ Francona said, allowed it.
Francona recalled watching Bert Blyleven pitch and marveling at his curveball.
“It was probably the funnest 10 days of my life,’’ Francona said. “My mom bought me a suit to go on that trip, dressed me up, and put a tie on me. When I came home after that 10 days, man, I looked like an unmade bed.’’
Francona allows the players to have their sons in the clubhouse as often as they want. Victor Martinez Jr.and D’Angelo Ortiz are often underfoot, playing catch or dressing in their own uniforms.
“It’s good,’’ Francona said. “When you think about it, we’re away from our families so much and these guys are a lot. I think you can see how healthy it is when the kids are around. I think it’s good." (Peter Abraham-Boston Globe-6/21/10)
- In 1997, Tito Francona retired as the Director of Parks and Recreation in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He never brought his own game home with him. "When he got three hits, he didn't go out and buy me a new toy," Terry recalls. "You could never tell how he had played. It never made a difference. And for that, I'll always be thankful."
- When his Dad would come home from those hot, steamy St. Louis afternoons of playing baseball for the Cardinals, Terry would be in front of the door with a baseball glove for both he and his father.
"I'd have my glove waiting and a glove for him," said Terry Francona. "And he'd go out and play catch with me or hit me fly balls. Then when I got older and I started playing, I remember thinking, 'My goodness, my Dad came home from the ballpark, he was exhausted, and he would play catch with me.' I waited for him on the doorstep. I never knew if he had played good or played bad when he got home. I hope that taught me a lot of lessons with my children."
- Terry plays golf in his leisure time.
- In 1989, Terry was signed by the Brewers as a free agent.
- After the 1990 season, Terry underwent knee surgery that led to the end of his playing career.
- In 1993, Terry was Baseball America's Minor League Manager of the Year while with the AA Birmingham Barons.
He married Jacqui Lang January 9, 1982. They have four children: Nick (born 7/11/85), Alyssa (4/7/87), Leah (1/27/89), and Jamie (11/25/94).
In 2005 and 2006, Terry was paying about $70,000 per year for his son at the University of Pennsylvania and daughter at the University of North Carolina. He also had a daughter in high school and a daughter in middle school, so they are not far away from needing college money too.
- Francona is utterly without pretense. He has absolutely no ego.
- Terry sometimes plays cribbage with his players before games. Cribbage is a counting card game devised by the 17th-century English poet Sir John Suckling. It demands cunning, skill, experience, etiquette, and luck. Kind of like managing.
Francona has fought a long battle to stop chewing tobacco. According to coach Brad Mills, he has cut back a lot.
"Now, it's just three chunks of bubble gum, with just a little bit of chewing tobacco mixed in," Mills said near the end of the 2007 season. "The thing is, Tito doesn't chew at all between the end of the season and Opening Day."
- May 13-14, 2008: Terry missed a couple of games to be with family after Mary Ann Lang, the mother of Francona's wife, Jacque, succumbed to cancer.
- 2004 World Series: Terry became the third manager in four years to win a World Series in his first year as a manager. The others were Bob Brenly (Arizona) and Jack McKeon (Florida).
- March 5, 2015: Francona's red scooter that he rides around during training camp and to and from Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland during the regular season was wrecked recently by a team employee during a promotional video shoot.
Francona was pleased to report that the unnamed rider is doing fine, but his two-wheeled vehicle is going to require some maintenance.
"It's in the shop," he said, "as is the kid."
Francona didn't reveal the exact nature of the scooter's problems, but indicated it could be some time before the motorized bike is back on the streets.
Tito switched from chewing tobacco to bubble gum a few years ago. And he chews a lot of the sugary confection.
Asked how many pieces he puts in his mouth, Terry started computing, wanting to give an honest answer, then said, "Probably 80 pieces, average, but if it is a very close game, a few more. If not, less."
Memorial Day means a little more to Terry these days. Appreciation for the annual holiday grew for him after his son, Nick, joined the U.S. Marines and served overseas. Francona said he knows this day should have carried more weight for him years earlier.
"For right or wrong, my feelings probably changed when my son went into the Marines," Francona said. "I probably started to be a little more respectful of days like this than I probably should've been all along. I know during the National Anthem, I probably think more about things that maybe I should've [thought about] a long time ago."
In 2011, Nick Francona served in Afghanistan as the commander of a Marine brigade's scout-sniper platoon. The son of the Cleveland manager currently works in the player development department for the Dodgers, following a stint in the Angels' front office during the 2014 season.
Since taking over as the Indians' manager in 2013, Francona has helped with a "Friends of Francona" program that hosts members of the military or first responders for each Sunday home game.
"Back in generations before me, you didn't sign up. You had to go," he said. "Now, that's not the case. People volunteer. And I think what's kind of neat is, they refer to people as heroes. But, what they are, are regular people that choose to do something that helps us live our life how we want to.
"I guess that's what makes a hero. That's pretty cool. Unfortunately, along the way, people lose their lives, they have injuries that hurt their way of life. It's difficult to understand, but hopefully it's not just today that we remember." (Bastian - mlb.com - 5/25/15)
Terry said his father never quite understood why the nickname made it to a second generation. "Tito" is what the elder Francona was called since his youth, and it is now what friends and family, and even players in the clubhouse, often use for the Indians' manager.
"Because I care about my dad so much," Terry Francona said, "I always took it as a compliment."
Little Tito was back with his team following the funeral of his dad, John "Tito" Francona, on February 17, 2018, in New Brighton, Pa. Tito, who suited up for the Indians from 1959-1964, died at his home. He was 84. That created a somber tone to the early portion of Spring Training around the team's complex.F rancona cherishes his memories with his dad, but said he is especially grateful for the past five years.
Tito Francona only spent six years of his career in a Cleveland uniform, but he quickly became a fan favorite. He nearly won a batting title in 1959—the same year Terry was born. And he was an American League All-Star in 1961. Tito was at the media conference when his son was named the 42nd manager in club history before the 2013 season. In the years since, he watched as many games as he could, called his son often, and made the drive from New Brighton when he could take in games in person.
In 2016, Tito threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the Indians' first playoff game, when they came one win shy of the franchise's first World Series title since 1948. He was the first person to call Terry when the Tribe clinched the pennant that year, and Little Tito badly wanted to win it all, not only for the city, but given his father's ties to the organization.
"Cleveland's as close to family, a familial feeling, as you can get in a professional setting for him and myself," Francona said. "My son did kind of a eulogy and he mentioned that, like what a fitting way to kind of wind down your life, being that happy."
Over the past several days, Francona has tried to return every message left from people who knew his dad. He was overwhelmed by the notes that flooded in. "When you play for nine teams and you're a good guy," Francona said, "you're going to know a lot of people."
Francona grew up in a big league clubhouse. It was his dad's teammates who dubbed him "Little Tito" long ago -- and that remains where he is most comfortable. There is another season at hand. Terry knows Tito would not want his him to be distracted by anything else.
"It's so nice to be back," Francona said. "I went back for two days to be with my family and then I came back here to kind of be with my family. I care about the game, I respect the game, I love the game, because of my dad. I guarantee you that. He taught me to care about baseball so deeply. I got that right from him." (Bastian - mlb.com = 2/19/18)
TITO GOES SKYDIVING
March 17, 2019: With final roster cuts nearing, vacancies in the outfield that still need to be addressed and bullpen spots to fill, where would be a better place to clear your thoughts than 14,000 feet in the air? Yes, crunch time is just around the corner as the Indians enter their final days in Goodyear. It’s a time where players on the bubble start gripping the bat a little tighter as anxiety and tension grow to make the final cut. But before the big decisions need to be made, manager Terry Francona experienced some nerves of his own as he strapped a parachute to his back to skydive for the first time.
Francona happened to be swimming at the same pool as some Navy SEALs who had talked about their skydiving experiences, which piqued the manager’s interest. He had the Indians’ vice president of baseball learning and development, Jay Hennessey (who served 25 years in the United States Navy), do some research around the area to find the best skydiving companies. After the Indians’ win against the Rockies, Francona headed to Skydive Buckeye, 21 miles from Goodyear Ballpark. When he arrived, he had to go through three pages of paperwork, which he said was like signing his life away.
“I thought that was interesting, when I went out there, [bench coach Brad Mills] moved all his [stuff] into my office. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something,” Francona said, laughing.
Francona received a quick briefing, then got strapped in and headed to the plane. According to Skydive Buckeye’s website, it takes about 15-20 minutes for the plane to get up to approximately two miles in the air.
“As soon as we took off, he went straight up,” Francona said. “I thought we were going down. I was like, ‘[Dang], I didn’t even get to jump.’ But it was intense.”
Francona was attached to his instructor on the flight, sitting on his lap. Once the plane hit the desired altitude, the tandem made their way to the edge of the plane.
“For me, to get out of the plane was the hardest thing,” Francona said. “He’s like, ‘Pull your legs up.’ And I’m like, ‘They are!’ But they open the door and that wind comes -- and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ “But then I got my feet out on the strut, and I was OK. I wasn’t panicked. But I started to ask him something about when we’re going, and all of a sudden the plane is over there! It’s amazing, what goes through your mind. All the stupid stuff you’ve done in your life.”
The free fall lasted about 45 seconds, but Francona said he couldn’t fully enjoy it because of the air pressure and wind causing his face to blow back around his head. If he’d do it again, he’d use a helmet to block that all out.
“You know when you clinch the division and they pour champagne on your head? After like three seconds, you’re like, enough,” Francona said. “Try that for 45 seconds. I thought my head was going to explode.”
Although it may have felt like an eternity in the moment, the 45 seconds blew past and Francona quickly forgot about the pressure in his head when the parachute was pulled, causing a painful jolt. But then, a sudden rush of peace came over him as he began his four-minute float down to land. But the ground came up quickly.
“You come in, man, kind of hot,” Francona said. “I mean, it’s all gravel. I’m like, ‘[Dang], man. That’s going to hurt.’ And then you just walk right into it. It was unbelievable.” (M Bell - MLB.com - March 17, 2019)