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Almost like old times for Tito

5/23/2013

BOSTON -- The Cleveland Indians’ charter flight from Detroit landed in Boston at 5 a.m. After a few hours of sleep, Terry Francona woke up at 8 a.m. and began his day. Of course, it wasn’t just another game day for the former Red Sox manager, who was about to face his former club for the first time in Boston.

Despite being bleary-eyed and worn down by travel, muscle memory took over for Francona when stepping into Fenway Park. His manner of arrival at the ballpark was slightly off, piling into the back of a taxi cab instead of driving in, but once there, it was all too familiar.

“Whether you go left or right, the people are still the same,” Francona said before Thursday night’s game.

Mobbed by reporters in the visitors’ dugout before the Indians’ batting practice session, Francona reflected on his time in Boston.

“I don’t know if it will be difficult, maybe emotional,” he said.

It’s not the first time the Red Sox and Indians have met this season, but Thursday marked Francona’s return to Fenway. The much-anticipated first meeting between Francona and the Red Sox took on a much different tone, as it was one day after the April 15 attack on the Boston Marathon. In a difficult time in Boston history, Francona sought to detach himself from the storyline.

“When Boston was playing us in Cleveland, the city was going through the Marathon thing, and I was trying to be very respectful,” he said. “It’s different coming here for sure.”

When asked to gauge what the fan reaction would be to his return, Francona balked at each turn, separating emotion from the business of the day.

“I don’t spend any time thinking about things like that. It’s just not the way I’m built," he said. "These were some very special years [in Boston], but sometimes they were tough.”

Francona did acknowledge having a conversation with longtime friend -- and now adversary -- John Farrell. He had not talked to any members of the Red Sox ownership group, adding that he was unaware if they were in town.

Still, many things remained the same -- except, perhaps, for the less-than-spacious confines of Fenway’s visitors' clubhouse.

“It’s a lot smaller than I remembered,” chuckled Francona, who last was there while managing the Philadelphia Phillies.

Throughout Francona’s carwash tour of Boston media in the lead up to the series opener, he talked about the rigors of managing in a baseball-mad environment such as Boston. But, all things considered, he was happy to be back.

“If you like baseball, this is a good place to be,” he said.