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Handling cutdowns with care

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There is no easy way to be told to stick your dreams in your back pocket. That’s true for Casey Kelly, true for Jose Iglesias, and in a different time and place, true for Terry Francona.

This is the way it happened for Francona, a big-time college star and No. 1 draft pick who was invited to big league camp in his first season of pro ball with the Montreal Expos.

Francona got one at-bat in spring training, as a pinch-hitter, and struck out.

“I came back to the dugout and Dick Williams told me, ‘Thanks, now go to Daytona.’ Just like that. Kind of knocks the wind out of you.’’

Francona was packed and in his car, headed to minor league camp, even before the game ended.

“I was promised I’d come to big league camp,’’ he said. “I guess they kept their promise.’’

Francona told this story while sitting in the third-base dugout of City of Palms Park Sunday morning, about a half-hour after he’d finished breaking the news to a dozen players, including top pitching prospect Kelly and exciting shortstop Iglesias, that they were being sent back to minor league camp.

Francona summoned the players, one by one, into his office. “Every time I walked out,’’ he said, “guys went running.’’

For Kelly and the other five pitchers sent down -- Andy Mills, Kyle Weiland, Randor Bierd, Robert Manuel and Kris Johnson -- pitching coach John Farrell also was there. For the position players, Iglesias and five others -- outfielders Ryan Kalish and Che-Hsuan Lin, catcher Luis Exposito, first baseman Lars Anderson and infielder Yamaico Navarro -- their position coaches were there with Francona. Dave Magadan, the team’s bilingual batting coach, was present for the meeting with Iglesias and a couple of the other Spanish-speaking players.

Also in the manager’s small office was general manager Theo Epstein and director of player development Mike Hazen.

No one was there, back in 1981, to cushion the blow for Francona. “Times have changed,’’ he said.

Now the Red Sox provide a village.

“We try to remind those young guys this isn’t supposed to be a bad day,’’ Francona said.

Some understand that better than others.

“Talk to a Casey Kelly or a Ryan Kalish, it’s not really a send-down,’’ Francona said. “They were nonroster, they made great impressions, now get ready for your season.’’

As for Iglesias, Francona concedes that the kid had the mentality of someone who thought he had a chance to make the team, even if he knew better. Was the manager tempted to keep him around a little longer?

“That would be unfair to him,’’ Francona said. “He needs to go play. He has no professional at-bats. [Keeping him in camp] would be doing him a disservice.

“I think he was probably a little disappointed. He’s a very confident young man, which I understand. He needs to go play. That’s important.’’

Iglesias played so well in camp, he evidently caused the Sox to abandon any thought of starting him in high-Class A ball to allow him to adjust to the climate and the culture. Iglesias was assigned to Double-A Portland, which hardly leaves a giant step to the majors, pretty remarkable for a player in his first season of pro ball.

The other 11 players were assigned to minor league camp, with their ultimate destinations to be determined later.

“For Iglesias, this is the beginning of his career,’’ Francona said. “We felt fortunate to get a chance to see him play, and now he needs to go get ready. Part of that is going through minor league camp. That’s an important part. Guys aren’t waiting on you for everything. It’s part of the maturation process.’’

The players who were sent down were given Sunday off and told to report to minor league camp on Monday.

“It was amazing, awesome to be here,’’ Exposito said, who was interrupted while packing his bag by a big handshake from David Ortiz. ‘’Hopefully they think I did a good job. I worked hard and did as much as I could.’’

Exposito departed with a memorable at-bat in Saturday’s intrasquad game, hitting a monster home run off Kelly, whom he had become close with while playing in Salem, Va., last summer.

“I gave him a hug afterward,’’ Exposito said, ‘because I didn’t want him to de-friend me.’’