GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The exhibition opener always brings a measure of excitement, but Friday there was increased volume for the Indians and their fans during an 11-10 Cactus League victory over the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark.
It had everything to do with the new manager wearing the Chief Wahoo logo on his cap.
With a pair of World Series titles on his resume, Terry Francona has brought a different vibe to his first training camp with the Indians, and the players are welcoming the approach.
“He’s been there,” reliever Joe Smith said. “He’s won the rings. He’s been there with the high-paid players and guys with egos and he’s managed all of that.
“I think he’s going to fit in here perfectly. The feel we get from him is just excitement.”
That seems to be the consensus from the majority of Cleveland players that are getting their first taste of Francona after three seasons under Manny Acta, who was fired at the end of last year.
The feeling around those who have been in camp since the start is that there’s more excitement. Players are getting after it, rather than going through the motions in preparation for the regular season.
Francona, 53, has noticed.
“I told them I was proud of them and I meant that,” he said prior to the victory over Cincinnati. “I would not tell them that if I didn’t feel that way. They have done everything we’ve asked them to do every single day and they’ve done it with a smile.
“It’s been a pleasure. I’m really proud of them.”
Outside of a sparkling resume, the biggest difference between Francona and Acta appears to be the communication level. After he was dismissed, Acta was criticized by Indians players for failing to communicate — most notably closer Chris Perez, who said he rarely saw his former manager in the clubhouse.
That won’t be a problem with the hands-on Francona.
“He’s one of those guys where the communication level is off the charts,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “He’s got such a positive attitude. We know we have the right leader in him.”
Swisher is familiar with Francona thanks to his playing days with the Yankees — Francona managing New York’s chief rival, the Red Sox, from 2004-11. But players such as Indians left fielder Michael Brantley are just getting to know him.
“He brings a ton of positive energy,” Brantley said. “He’s an unbelievable person. It’s just phenomenal to have such a vocal leader.”
Communication is the key, according to Francona.
“I just think it works better,” he said. “When they trust you, it just works better. I just like it. I enjoy walking in the clubhouse and seeing the guys in the morning. It’s fun. It’s where I’m more comfortable.”
Though the Indians have yet to play a single regular-season game, there is already a comfort zone with their new manager. Rather than running out the same tired cliches prior to the start of a season, Cleveland players are talking about contending — and they are serious.
“We’re excited,” said starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who played for Francona in Boston before arriving in Cleveland via a trade for Victor Martinez during the 2009 season. “What happened to Manny Acta was unfortunate, but having a new guy come in, I don’t think you could have anything better than Terry Francona.
“He’s a professional, he knows what he’s doing. He loves his players. I’m one of the few guys that knows him well, but the majority of guys that I’ve talked to are just really excited and can’t wait to get things going.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.