It was during those visits that he came to value the camaraderie of the clubhouse and forged in his own mind the ideal environment for players he would one day lead.
The Red Sox’ clubhouse is a relaxed, casual place filled with guitar-playing relievers, TV-watching starters, a carefree coaching staff (except in matters concerning the upcoming game) and a general vibe that lets any visitor know that baseball, while important, is not life or death. Included in that is a general acceptance of player’s kids, a scenario which sometimes flies in the face of major league rules.
“When you think about it, we’re away from our families so much, and these guys are away a lot,” Francona said recently about having a family friendly atmosphere. “I think you can see how healthy it is when the kids are around. I think it’s good.”
Francona likely would install a comfortable place to work in almost any city, but the pressures of a city like Boston almost demand it. The wide variety of personalities, egos and attitudes that come through the clubhouse door need to know that they have relative free rein to be themselves.
And when their personalities, egos and attitudes get into sticky situations, whether it is a slump or an off-field issue, Francona has their back. There are enough critics in this town for a player to feel the heat. He doesn’t need it coming from his manager.
When the 2010 season began, Francona was faced with some difficult scenarios. Veterans such as Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell were being pushed into reserve roles and star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was being moved to left in favor of newly acquired Mike Cameron.
Injuries have prevented any major controversies from taking place, but aside from a tiny bit of barking from Lowell, who questioned his role on the team as his playing time decreased, there was never even any indication that a player was mildly upset.
Varitek has become starting catcher Victor Martinez’s biggest supporter. Before Ellsbury and Cameron both got banged up, they were learning from one another, the veteran passing on tools of the trade to the youngster, who was more than willing to provide tips on how to play the tricky outfield in Fenway Park.
Francona is patient and understands that nothing is ever set in stone in a 162-game schedule. This philosophy allows players to know that even if their role isn’t ideal at the moment, it just might be in a week, a month or by the time October comes around.
That is especially the case in 2010, when fill-ins and call-ups have been required on a daily basis.
“All the things that got talked about in spring training in having too many players, too many pitchers … we know we’re gonna have things happen,” Francona said.
The 51-year-old manager has been seeing things happen in major league clubhouses for decades, from the time he was a boy. It’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing.