“We don’t know how good we’re going to be, but I’m excited to see how much better we can get.”
It’s a simple phrase, full of optimism and faith that the future is bright, uttered by Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona during his press conference at the close of spring training. Francona is an amazing human being, a ball of excitement and positivity. As someone who grew up in New England I got to watch him do his work in Boston and now feel blessed to have him in Cleveland running my favorite team.
Francona seems like a pretty straightforward guy who understands what he can control and who believes in the men he’s tasked with managing. It’s an interesting point of view for a manager to have of his team as they enter the season though—you’d think he’d be more firm in his expectations, but it’s exciting the hope he has for his squad.
Perhaps what Francona is simply saying he believes in his team. He should—there’s a lot of talent, near day and night from last season. In case you didn’t remember, the Indians started Shelley Duncan in left field last season, and paid Grady Sizemore $5 million to run on a treadmill. Casey Kotchman was one of the biggest moves in the offseason, and none of the Tribe’s moves helped to engender faith and hope in the fanbase. In baseball, hope is a real commodity.
It’s a smart, almost political statement from Francona. It sounds punchy, it kind of sloughs off the idea that this is definitely a team that will be competing for a World Series (deep down we all know making the playoffs is a huge longshot) and it highlights the stunning potential the Indians have. You can tell Terry was seasoned in the media pressure cooker of Boston. Those guys are relentless, and after that he’s got to be in heaven with friendlier faces like Paul Hoynes, Jordan Bastian, Nick Camino and crew as the guys badgering him. It’s almost a vacation.
I like to think it means we’ll see a lot of experimentation out of Francona, taking advantage of what each guy can bring to the table. I don’t think we’ll see a Joe Maddon laboratory-like atmosphere (he had 151 different lineups last year and never used one more than three times) but he’s going to take his time to see what he has to work with and get the most out of his team.
We didn’t see a lot of action out of Francona on Opening Day, but we did see flashes of how good this team could be. Whether it was the accidental homer by Asdrubal Cabrera, the diving catch by Drew Stubbsor wizardry around the diamond defensively, this could well be a special team. A couple years ago Theo Epstein, then of the Red Sox, used the phrase “run prevention” to keep the media and fans off his back while the Sox went through a bridge year. It was kind of a snake oil sale for Bosotn, but considering how much this team’s success is going to be based on how the pitching does, having a dazzling defense behind a less-than-steady rotation could be the tipping point between mediocre and awesome.
I like this team. They’re going to strike out a ton, like Mark Reynolds when he was in a big spot with guys on second and third with a chance to blow the game open, but they’ll make hits out of dribblers and pressure the other team defensively because of all the speed in the lineup. Double plays will happen, but not like when Travis Hafner clogged up the basepaths. When we get to the end of September, like Francona I could see this team grabbing a playoff spot. I could also see them be just terrible if the pitching blows up. But right now I’m amped for the season—as we all should be.