BOSTON — Terry Francona felt right at home in the visiting dugout.
Back at Fenway Park as a manager for the first time since being let go by the Boston Red Sox in 2011, he was calm and occasionally funny while wearing the cap of the Cleveland Indians.
After all, he’s back in baseball.
“Being in a dugout or clubhouse, there’s no place I’m more comfortable,” Francona said Thursday night as he sat in the opposite dugout from where he spent eight seasons as Boston’s manager. “Part of the reason I’m OK with this is I’m really proud of coming here with this hat on, this uniform.
“And that takes nothing away from the eight years I was here. It makes it easier for me to look back on some of the fonder memories and now you start new ones in another place.”
In his first season as their manager in 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Three years later, they won another. And four years after that he was let go following a September collapse that cost the Red Sox a playoff berth.
“I wish the ending would have been different,” Francona said before Thursday night’s opener of a four-game series.
He spent last season as an ESPN analyst then was hired to replace Manny Acta, who lost 94 games.
The Indians started Thursday in first place in the AL Central.
“I wasn’t going to Cleveland to go to pasture,” Francona said. “Every game means the same to me here in Cleveland as it ever did here (in Boston). Our goals are exactly the same — to win the game we’re playing. But I like where I’m at and maybe for me, where I’m at in my life and baseball, this is a really good place.”
There’s less media and fan scrutiny. And there are fewer big-name players than he had in Boston where he managed Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Josh Beckett.
After Francona spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes, Ortiz walked into the dugout with a big smile and embraced his former manager.
Francona said he hadn’t had much time to think how emotional the night would be.
“Everybody kept saying, ‘well, are you going to be emotional?’ You don’t know,” he said. “We played a late game (Wednesday) night. We got in about 5 (a.m.), got up at 8. It’s been a busy day and, for people that know me, I really don’t think that far ahead. I know I’ve been accused of that in the games, but I just kind of take it as it comes.”
After the first inning, a video tribute on the center field scoreboard showed former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, now Francona’s third-base coach, former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, now Francona’s bullpen coach, and former Red Sox players Justin Masterson, Mike Aviles and Rich Hill, all with the Indians.
It ended with several scenes of Francona in the dugout and on the field as Boston’s manager, one of them in which he hugged Martinez.
He received a standing ovation and remained in his dugout. He waved his left hand and patted his heart with his right hand.
Francona said he hadn’t spent time thinking how the fans might react.
“These are some of the best fans in the world,” he said. “If you like baseball, this is a good place to be and I got to be a part of that. I feel very fortunate.”
Francona actually managed as a Fenway visitor while with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997-2000, going 4-4. This season, the Red Sox swept the Indians in a three-game series at Cleveland from April 16-18.
Francona had been back at Fenway several times last year. He returned with ESPN and for the 100th anniversary celebration of the park on April 20.
Among the bigger cheers that day was the chant of “Tito!” that greeted him. He had been angered by a newspaper article revealing details about personal troubles during the 2011 season and said he would not attend but then relented.
“He did a lot to really put Red Sox baseball back on top of the world,” Masterson said. “Everyone here loved him. Everyone on our team loves him. And everyone in Cleveland loves him. He’s just an incredible guy.”
On Thursday, he visited with clubhouse attendants and Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick. He spoke with his good friend John Farrell, who took over as Boston manager after Bobby Valentine was fired following a last-place finish in which the team went 69-93.
Aviles ended up in Cleveland after being traded by Toronto. The Blue Jays had obtained him to allow Boston to hire Farrell, who had been their manager.
“It is a great opportunity to play for Tito again,” Aviles said. “You couldn’t ask for a better manager.”
Francona said he hasn’t changed much since he managed the Red Sox, although the year off refreshed him.
But his goal remains the same, no matter which dugout he manages from — just win.
“Every game I’ve ever been here I’ve never rooted against the Red Sox,” he said. “Now I will be.”