Tuesday, July 7, 2009

'My job entails more than putting the hit and run on'

Terry Francona received an unexpected visitor the other day: Luis Andujar, who pitched for Francona at Double-A Birmingham during the 1993, 1994 and 1995 seasons. Andujar was 20 years old and less than two years out of the Dominican Republic when he and Francona first encountered each other.

Andujar didn't have an apartment when he got to Birmingham. He didn't have a car, either. His 34-year-old manager helped the young righty get an apartment and get a car -- and get a new car when the first one promptly broke down.

"It broke down that very day," Francona said. "I was the guy that helped him get his car, and then I was the guy that went and picked him up when his first car didn't work."

That, to Francona, is what being a manager is all about.

"My job entails more than putting the hit and run on," he said.

Francona played his big-league baseball in an era in which players were expected to devote themselves to their teams first and their families second, to hold off on taking care of their responsibilities at home during off-days or after the season ended.

When Francona was born, his dad -- playing for the Indians at the time -- didn't get to come see him for a couple of weeks. A generation later, Francona only made it to his wife's side "literally seven or eight minutes" before his son, Nick, was born, and he didn't get to the hospital where his daughter, Alyssa, was born until the next day.

"My wife's still mad at me," he said, "and it's 22 years later. ... We were playing in Cincinnati, and Pete (Rose) just said, 'We have a day off tomorrow. Go tomorrow.' I said, 'OK.'"

Other than Buck Rodgers, the Montreal Expos manager who "had a way of making you feel important," he said, Francona hadn't played for many managers who cared much about his players' private lives. It wasn't until he encountered guys like Andujar that he really learned how important it was to take care of his players off the field as well as on the field.

"What opened my eyes was going to the minor leagues as a manger and seeing what guys were dealing with," Francona said.

That's why there was never any doubt where Dustin Pedroia was supposed to be on Monday night.

Pedroia's wife, Kelli, was seven months into her first pregnancy when she abruptly went into labor and ended up the hospital. Doctors gave her "some shots," Pedroia said, to try to prevent her from delivering the baby at such an early date.

Pedroia stayed with his wife until she insisted he go to Fenway Park to play in his team's game.

"I kind of do what I'm told," the second baseman said with a smile.

When he showed up at the ballpark, though, Francona turned him around and sent him right back to the hospital.

"Hey, you’ve got to get out of here, man," he said. "You’ve got to take care of your family."

The 25-year-old second baseman spent the night on a tiny hospital bed -- "It's good I'm small," he said with a smirk -- before heading back to the ballpark on Tuesday afternoon.

"She's kind of out of it right now," he said. "She just said to go to the park and play: 'Go win and come back.' That's what we're trying to do today."

Pedroia didn't even have to think about Monday's game -- a game the Red Sox lost because they couldn't manage more than two hits off Oakland rookie Brett Anderson. The reigning American League MVP, of course, could have helped. But that's not what's most important. That's not why he was in their thoughts. That's not why general manager Theo Epstein sent over a text message late Monday night.

"He needed to not be here," Francona said. "Anybody that's been around him for any length of time knows how bad he wants to play. ... He needed to be with Kelli, and she needed him. Now that she's got some family here, he's a little more comfortable -- and they're a little more comfortable with him being here.

"He's a phone call away. If he needs to leave, we'll do that."


Postscript: Pedroia played all nine innings in Tuesday night's 5-2 win, and he even hit a line-drive single to left in the sixth inning to plate a key insurance run.

"Whether it had been a 14-hopper in the hole or whatever got it done, that was big in a lot of ways for him," left fielder Jason Bay said. "And us."

Said Francona, "It was nice to have him here. I think he was probably glad to be playing."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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