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04/11/05 8:23 PM ET

A stress-free return for Francona

BOSTON -- Four days away from the job might not seem like a lot to some. But for Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who sinks his mind and his heart into managing his team, the sabbatical was not one he welcomed.

After experiencing stiffness in his chest, Francona was taken from Yankee Stadium to a Manhattan hospital last Wednesday, and transported that night via Medi-Vac to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he stayed until his release on Friday.

But Francona's true release didn't come until Monday, when he was given clearance to manage his team again.

"They seemed a little bit happy to see me," Francona said. "They're probably faking it a little. I was probably happy to see them more than anything. You get so used to being around these guys. Even when the times aren't perfect, you get close to people and you care about them. I missed being up there [in Toronto] this weekend like you guys can't believe. That was hard for me."

"Having Tito back, he was just about crying when everyone was walking in [to the clubhouse]. He really missed us," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We'll try to go out there and give him a good show and try and not make him stress as much."

Francona's return to the office wound up being stress-free. Glorious, in fact. When the emotional presentation of the championship began before Monday's home opener against the Yankees, Francona was the first person to be introduced. The crowd welcomed him back by giving him perhaps the loudest applause he's ever received in all his years in baseball.

"In terms of the pregame stuff, that was ... an unbelievable feeling," Francona said. "Obviously, a lot of us have never gone through anything like that. It was incredible."

For the Red Sox, it would have been a strange day if Francona had not been a part of the special day.

"We're very thankful for Terry being back and being healthy," said Sox right fielder Trot Nixon. "It was great to see him out there. He got great reaction from the fans. It goes to show you what kind of fans we have here."

And most to Francona's delight was the fact that the Sox got a win, downing the Yankees by a score of 8-1.

As it turned out, Francona's health scare wound up being nothing more than that. Because the men in his family have a deep history of heart problems, Francona was understandably worried. As it turned out, his heart was fine and doctors diagnosed him with what was believed to be a viral illness.

"I think I scared myself a little bit," said Francona, whose return neatly coincided with the Red Sox playing their home opener against the Yankees.

"I think what I really feel is I have an obligation to this organization, and I missed it for a few days. That's what bothered me probably more than anything. The biggest feeling I have is that I need to be doing my job. That's probably the one thing that sticks out more than anything.

"I need to get in the dugout and do what I'm supposed. It doesn't mean we're going to win games that we lost. I have a responsibility to this organization, and I need to do that. If it takes being a little smarter with my diet or whatever, I have that responsibility. I need to do it."

Francona, who got a rousing ovation as he received his World Series championship ring, still isn't sure quite what caused the viral ailment. He figures it was a combination of job-related stress, some aspects of his diet and a grueling travel schedule.

If nothing else, he learned a lesson.

"Remember at the end of spring, everybody [on the team] was getting sick? I didn't allow myself to get sick. I think I was," said Francona. "We had all those bus rides at the end and we went to Arizona. I think I just might have gone under. The doctors definitely told me to not have as much stress. I'll try to figure that one out."

That statement came with obvious irony, as everyone knows the type of stress that managing the Red Sox entails.

"We're 2-4 and I'm miserable," Francona said before the game. "It's not like I care any less about baseball. I'll just try to take an hour out of my day, maybe get in the pool, or do something where I can handle what we're doing and not have this job knock me under."

Francona recounted the events of last Wednesday morning, when he had no idea what was wrong with him.

"I got on the bus -- the 8 o'clock bus -- and broke into a sweat, and just didn't feel good. I must have fallen asleep, because they woke me up when I got to the ballpark, which is a rarity. I just didn't feel well. I didn't want to talk. So I said something to [trainer Jim Rowe], which is a little out of character. I think he knew right away. Shoot, the next thing I know I'm on the way to the hospital. I got an IV in and they're giving me the nitro glycerin. I had some tightness in my chest. I think I had classic signs of heart problems. It runs in my family so much that it sent up a lot of red flags. I think it scared me a little bit, too."

By the time Francona left the hospital, he was secure in the knowledge he was going to be OK.

"Once I was there, they ran every test under the world," said Francona. "They came to the conclusion that there was some viral whatever. I think the things that happened to me a couple years ago [pulmonary embolism following knee surgery] probably didn't help. I'm going to be OK. It probably gave me a little warning that I need to clean up my eating habits and take care of myself."

Francona was touched by the outpouring of support that came during his days away from the team.

"I had a lot of wonderful messages from people I know, people I don't know," Francona said. "I feel like I'm part of what's going on up here. Coming back to Boston felt like I was coming home a little bit, which was nice."

Now, he's ready to get back at it.

"I'm sure it's hard for people to understand why this job is stressful, because it's only a game, but it goes way past that," said Francona. "This is our passion; this is what we care about. It's going to be hard for this not to be stressful, because as a manager you're supposed to care about everything. It's not just wins and losses. It's the players. It's the trainers, it's the clubhouse people. Everybody comes to you. That will never change, and it's not supposed to."

And after those few days of uncertainty for Francona, things were back to the same. He was back in the dugout.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.