Terry Francona is now entrenched in his position, entering his fourth season as the manager of the Red Sox. He has an open-door policy with his players and an open-minded thought process when evaluating every aspect of his team. On a recent Spring Training morning, Francona sat down with MLB.com and spoke about a variety of issues surrounding his team as the 2007 season draws near.
MLB.com: What is the feeling like in the dugout on Opening Day?
Francona: What you try to do is remind players, this is Opening Day, what's important to you today stays important. Guys haven't sat for two weeks yet. Everything is team first. If you can try to keep that feeling as much as possible, there's no other feeling like it in the world. It's the best day in baseball. You want to get it over with too, because you want to get everyone's 'firsts' out of the way.
MLB.com: How much better are you sleeping at night now that Jonathan Papelbon has been reinstated as the closer?
Francona: I'll be honest with you, I'm supposed to concern myself with everything about our team and we want to put together a team that can potentially win every year. That's not easy to do. I see how Theo [Epstein] sits and agonizes about things over the winter. I do think this is a great move for our ballclub. Now, again, hindsight is unbelievable. We don't have that ability. Pap would be a good pitcher wherever you pitch him. I am excited about, potentially, our bullpen getting deep, which is good.
MLB.com: You've spoken about this during the spring, but how much did managing Michael Jordan at Double-A prepare you for the media frenzy that has accompanied Daisuke Matsuzaka's arrival?
Francona: I can't tell you enough. No Double-A manager goes through that, and I did. It was not a fluke, but luck of the draw. I don't think I get overwhelmed with this. The Boston media is enough. I've had experience with Philly and here, and MJ. It's all a learning process. If you're put in situations like that and you don't learn, you've made a big mistake.
MLB.com: How well has Daisuke handled all of the scrutiny?
Francona: Off the charts. You see him. No stress. He knows when to get his work done. I think I said early on -- he gets it. I think that's probably the best way to put it. He has ingratiated himself with everyone, including all the guys on our ballclub. I watch that closely.
MLB.com: As far as rookie Dustin Pedroia going into the year as your second baseman, do you have to force yourself to be more patient because he's a rookie, or how do you handle that?
Francona: I don't think I have to force myself. I think I understand it. I think I've been the one saying, be patient, you might not see the player in April that you're going to see down the road. It happens. If we're not patient enough with all players, you don't get the dividends. That's a mistake.
MLB.com: You've been on two-week increments with Jon Lester. Now you've announced that he'll start the season at Class A as he works his way back. What's the thing that's impressed you the most as he's obviously come off a very difficult situation with his health?
Francona: His level of maturity, his commitment to being an unbelievable worker. He's a quality young man. We kind of sat down with him early and said, this is how we're trying to do it, we're trying to stay consistent and do what's in your best interest.
MLB.com: Do you think Josh Beckett is on the cusp of being that ace that so many scouts have projected for the last couple of years?
Francona: That would be the hope. If you have Beckett, [Curt] Schilling and Matsuzaka all fighting it out to see who's the ace, we're in good shape. He's looked very dominant more often than not. His consistency level has certainly improved, at least in Spring Training.
MLB.com: You always hear about catchers and how they can break down in their mid-30s. How much do you think Jason Varitek can be the exception to that rule just because of all the work he puts into it?
Francona: He's in phenomenal shape. And he carries a huge burden. That's part of what makes him a good player. That's part of why we have him. He's conscientious about handling a staff. And he can handle an 0-for-4 as long as we win. That's part of what he does. He can also hit the ball out of the ballpark. He's a good baserunner. He brings a lot. But he's healthy, so at least he has a fair chance this year to go out and be the player he can be.
MLB.com: How well have the two big newcomers to the lineup -- Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew -- fit in to both the batting order and the clubhouse?
Francona: Fine. Both of them. Lugo is a little more outspoken, a little more easygoing. J.D. is quieter. But they've both been model citizens. It's our job to get to know them. J.D. shows up and gets hits. Lugo has been a little more vocal and infectious with his personality, but they've both been tremendous.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.