Terry's task: Win it all

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Day 5: Red Sox | Extra Innings

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The expectations are pretty simple – win it all.

Hey, the last guy to have the job as manager of the Boston Red Sox was merely fired after losing in extra innings of Game 7 of the ALCS.

Add to the challenge the fact that your All-Star shortstop enters the season "definitely hurt by" almost being traded in favor of the current starting third baseman of your archrival.

Then there is your best power hitter, who is "in la-la land most of the time." At least according to your best pitcher, who, like the shortstop, isn't certain he'll re-sign with the team.

And if every day is like Thursday at Spring Training, you'll hold daily press briefings with 13 television cameras and a couple dozen print reporters from throughout New England staring at you.

Oh yeah, and by the way, your team's mortal enemy has a payroll approaching $200 million, 17 All-Stars and the resources to add to both of those numbers by the trading deadline – and your fans are already anticipating the game against them on March 7.

March 7? You bet. So what if it's a Spring Training game.

"It is not an easy job to step into," center fielder Johnny Damon said.

No, it isn't. Although you won't hear the man took the step complaining. Terry Francona, the 44-year-old 44th manager in Red Sox history, was a picture of enthusiasm and excitement here on a perfect southwest Florida day.

Where some see pressure, he sees opportunity. Where some see a fragile balance of egos, Francona sees a locker room full of talent. Where some see the Red Sox Nation as curse obsessed and forever negative, he sees a passionate and endearing fan base.

"Everybody has actually been really, really neat about it," Francona said of his interactions with Boston fans. "It's all, 'Good luck' and, 'Hey, we're dying for a winner.' Basically that.

"{Although] nobody has offered to buy me dinner or anything like that."

If you win, they will. If you don't, well ...

"If we win I'll be able to buy dinner," said Francona, ever the positive thinker.

The former Philadelphia Phillies manager seems like the perfect fit for this pressure cooker of a job. His calm demeanor, combination of youth and experience (he played 10 years in the majors and is the son of a Major Leaguer, Tito Francona) and upbeat personality should serve him well.

"He brings a lot positive energy to the ballpark with him every day," Sox GM Theo Epstein said. "[He has] excellent interpersonal skills; he really develops trusting relationships. He also has great baseball instincts so he is very well-rounded."

The reality is that, despite the attention and expectations, managing the Red Sox in 2004 is a dream job. The clubhouse is full of high-quality winners, a roster where everyone – or at least darn close to everyone – completely is focused on winning the World Series and nothing less. This should be an extremely, extremely coachable group.

"He has full control," Damon said. "Whatever needs to be dealt with he will deal with it. He has our full support. We are going to go out and play hard for him. We played hard for Grady [Little]. No matter who we are playing for we are going to give 100 percent."

But there will be challenges. Manny Ramirez has a flaky side and last season sat for a game after fraternizing with the Yankees. Martinez and Garciaparra are always one quote away from feuding with the media. Talk radio is forever relentless. And Lord knows what will happen if there is a slump.

And then there are the Yankees.

But Francona is likeable and confident, yet seemingly without ego. Plus he is not Grady Little, whose name remains mud in Boston for his playoff managerial blunders. And it always is nice to follow a perceived failure.

"I know the fans are passionate about this team and thus this job comes with scrutiny," said Francona, as just over his shoulder hundreds of Red Sox fans sought autographs from players. "When I make decisions, I have to have a reason for it and explain it. And I have [to have] confidence in myself.

"My job is not to get too caught up in [the sideshow] but to pay attention to what I am supposed to pay attention to."


That's it and that's all for Boston in 2004.

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