By Tom Withers
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Back in a uniform he wore as a player, Terry Francona will stand before a major league team for the first time since 2011 and deliver a speech he hopes shapes the upcoming season.
He wants the new-look and revitalized Indians ready to roll.
His eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox fading with each passing day, Francona will address Cleveland’s players for the first time today before sending them onto the field for their first full-squad workout. Francona has had plenty of practice at such gatherings, and he understands this one holds special meaning.
“For me it’s the biggest meeting of the year because it sets the tone for how we’re going to do things,” Francona said Thursday after the Indians went through drills under abundant Arizona sunshine. “It is an important day. I’m not a big meeting person, but tomorrow is an important one.”
Francona wants the Indians, revamped by an unexpected spending spree this winter by Cleveland ownership, to embrace what lies ahead. He wants them to appreciate the value of each day and not take a single one for granted. He knows their start could go a long way in determining how the Indians finish.
Francona wouldn’t reveal many details of his planned speech, but divulged its theme.
“In a nutshell, ‘We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,’” he said. “We just want to do it better than other people and there’s ways to do that.”
The 53-year-old Francona has been revived after a season as a broadcaster. He’s back doing what he loves most — being a big league manager. He missed hanging out in the clubhouse, sitting on a table and talking to players or standing on a back field watching his relievers throw bullpen sessions.
Francona breathes baseball, and he wants his players to do the same. That’s why some of his speech will center on them making the most of every moment they get on the field.
“That’s an important part for our staff, trying to create an atmosphere that these guys want to show up every day and do the right thing,” he said. “That’s a really important thing and you don’t want to take it for granted. It’s easy on a day like today when it’s 65 and sunny. But there are going to be days where it’s windy and rainy and you want the guys to go out there and fight through it. You want to go out there and do the right thing.”
When Francona was hired in October, he inherited a team that had collapsed in the second half of last season. The Indians lost 94 games and the outlook for 2013 wasn’t promising.
To the surprise of just about everyone, the Indians invested $117 million in guaranteed money on free agents, landing outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn — two of the top available players — and giving Cleveland fans hope their team can return to relevancy.
Bourn, an All-Star with Atlanta last season, arrived at the team’s training complex Thursday to undergo a physical before he can officially sign his four-year, $48 million contract. Bourn is expected to participate in today’s workout and then will be introduced at a news conference shortly afterward.
Francona said Jason Giambi, who recently signed a minor-league contract, could make the roster as a pinch-hitter and part-time DH. The 42-year-old Giambi interviewed for the Colorado manager’s job before deciding to resume his playing career.
“I feel like it’s an honor that he’s in our camp, that’s how strongly I feel about this guy,” Francona said. “He’s everything you want in a player. He’s got some mileage. He’s a good teammate. He respects the game. He wants to win.”
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