Tribe prez: Tito exceeding expectations

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
4:54
PM ET
CLEVELAND -- Good afternoon from Progressive Field, a.k.a. Terry Francona’s place of work, one he can now find without assistance while walking from his apartment, a couple of blocks away.

One initial impression from our first visit here this season is that no matter how many clever ads Tito does for the Tribe, and they have been genuine originals, that by itself will not be enough to draw crowds on a lousy night in April at the stadium hard by the Oil Can Boyd Sea.

Tuesday night, the Red Sox and Indians played before a crowd of 9,143, the most intimate gathering to see the Sox play since they drew 9,025 and 9,523 in Cleveland on back-to-back April games (April 5-6) in 2011. Those are the smallest crowds the Sox have drawn this millennium. You have to go back to consecutive games in Minnesota’s Metrodome on July 4-5, 2000, to find the last time the Sox have played before a crowd under 10,000 (9,209 and 8,488, respectively).

The Red Sox, in part because of the diaspora of Sox fans across the major leagues, are one of baseball’s best draws on the road. Last season, they drew 2.51 million away from home, second behind the Yankees in the American League, averaging 31,038 per road game. They’ve drawn over 2 million on the road in every season since 1986 (not counting the 1994 and ’95 seasons, shortened by work stoppage), and have gone over 3 million three times (2005, 2007 and 2008).

Francona is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Tribe, and while the standings will be the ultimate determinant of his success here, he’s off to a promising start, at least in terms of the positive atmosphere he has created. Sports Illustrated, for example, featured Francona prominently in a recent issue that tabbed the Indians as a potential playoff team.

Francona did his usual riff at the expense of Sox TV play-by-play man Don Orsillo. “Have you done anything to make the announcing better?’’ he asked the Globe’s Nick Cafardo at his press conference Tuesday night.

Francona used to joke that when he had trouble sleeping, he would listen to tapes of Orsillo’s home run calls. Worked every time, he claimed.

“I miss that,’’ he said, finding Orsillo in the crowd. “Would you do that for me? That’s the only reason I hope somebody with the Red Sox hits a home run, so I can get a tape of that, so I can go to bed. National media, please get that.’’

Francona was then relayed a comment made earlier this week by Dustin Pedroia when asked about seeing his former cribbage partner again. “The only thing I got,’’ Pedroia said, “is that I was able to watch ‘ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and for the first time in over a year, I was able to unmute it. Got to listen to Orel Hershiser and [John] Kruk.’’

Francona, of course, served as analyst on the telecasts last year. He thought at first it was a jab at Orsillo. “That’s funny,’’ he said, before it dawned on him. “He’s talking about me!

“I agree with him,’’ he added. “I think I’m where I belong.’’

Indians president Mark Shapiro showed up to watch Francona’s media conference, and in the hallway outside, was asked how Francona had met his expectations.

“He’s exceeded them,’’ Shapiro said. “The one thing you know is what a great baseball guy he is. You know what a good friend he is, what a good person he is, how positive and energetic he is. If there is anything I may have underestimated, is how competitive he is. He’s been great to work with.

“I’m most happy for Chris (GM Chris Antonetti). He’s got that guy with him in the trenches every day and they’re starting out together, but I love my time with him and enjoy visiting with him and I know we’ve got a guy who’s getting every ounce out of our team, which is what you want.’’

The Indians president has deep Boston connections. His father is the noted sports attorney and agent, Ron Shapiro, who just turned 70 last month and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1967. His son Mark was born in Boston, and Mark’s brother, David, lives in Jamaica Plain and runs Mass. Mentoring partnership.

Mark was in his office Monday afternoon when he found out about the Marathon bombings and turned on his TV.

“You’re a generation of having these things occasionally pop up and you see them,’’ he said, “but obviously my links to Boston are strong and your first reaction is how many people is this impacting, is it impacting anyone close to me, and then you send out text messages to the people you know. A friend of mine ran in the marathon, my brother, he’s got runners sponsored in the marathon, he’s got volunteers working the race, so you start thinking of them.

“Thank God everybody was all right. You think about the broader issues, the broader concerns of the city, and then you think about the people that are close to you, and I’ve got a lot of personal ties there. I’ve always made the trip with the team there, I feel like it’s a city I’m close to. The Sox are an organization that I have a ton of close friends at, so it’s not hard to envision the places where those things occurred. It’s impossible to envision the horror of those scenes.’’

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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