On paper, this weekend’s interleague series against the Pittsburgh Pirates is what it is — just another series for manager Terry Francona‘s Red Sox. But for Francona himself, it means a little more.
Tito is a native of New Brighton, Pa., a borough just northwest of Pittsburgh, and he is managing games in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2000 when he was managing the Phillies. PNC Park is sure to be full of New Brighton natives who will come to see their hometown hero manage the first-place Red Sox. High school baseball teammates Mark Nemecek and Brian Lambert had no trouble filling up buses to Pittsburgh for Saturday and Sunday’s games.
Francona isn’t a hometown hero in New Brighton merely for being the leader of the two-time world champion Red Sox. Tito became a star for the New Brighton High School baseball team in 1976 with a ridiculous junior season. He hit .769 (30-for-39) at the plate and, to put it lightly, got it done on the mound as well. Francona tossed a no-hitter and finished the year with a 0.33 ERA. Tito also played basketball and golf at New Brighton.
Greg Fazio, Francona’s baseball coach at New Brighton in the 1970s, will likely not miss the chance to see his friend manage this weekend. Fazio and Francona have a special bond — Fazio received phone calls from the Red Sox dugout in 2004 and 2007 from Tito just before his two world titles as Boston’s manager.
“He calls me from the dugout,” said Fazio. “He says, ‘I’m going into the dugout, and I just thought I’d let you know, I think we are going to do it.'”
Francona’s Red Sox lost the first game of the series Friday, but the skipper is happy to return to his roots.