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Francona's Attempt to Build Relationships With His New Players Already Paying Dividends

Jan 18, 2013 -- 2:33pm

Photo/USA Today

By: T.J. Zuppe

Cleveland Indians third-baseman Lonnie Chisenhall stood in front of his locker, sporting Tribe apparel and ready to field questions from the assembled media in advance of this weekend’s Tribe Fest events taking place at Progressive Field.

The question on everyone’s mind? What were the players impressions of new Indians manager Terry Francona?

After all, the media could see the energy Francona was looking to bring to his new job. He appeared reinvigorated and ready to get his hands dirty at his new job in Cleveland.

But how would the players react to the relationships Francona was attempting to build? Sure, it sounds good in a blog or in a newspaper, but not everyone reacts the same or appreciates the efforts.

If Chisenhall’s response is any indication, the Indians are well on their way.

“Francona is pretty fired up,“ Chisenhall said with a grin on his face. “The first phone call, he kind of shocked me a little bit but he kind of got me excited a little bit. I said, wow, he’s really pumped up. (It’s about) the way he projects himself. The way he says your name.

“I don’t even remember exactly the things we talked about. But by the time I got off the phone with him I’m like wow, he kind of got me excited. I got the goosebumps a little bit. It was November and I’m like, I’m ready to go.”

Francona left quite an impression on the young third-baseman, now looking to open the season in the Tribe’s lineup at the hot corner. His genuine demeanor is a quality that many players appreciate as he looks to build relationships with his new squad.

After all, that was one of the first things Francona wanted to accomplish - build positive relationships with the players he will be counting on. In that, Francona hopes to create a successful, positive and winning environment.

It appears to already be paying dividends.

“After speaking with Terry, I’m very proud and very happy to be playing for him,” Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said. “I talked to him on many occasions this off-season through text and certain phone calls so he seems to keep great tabs on his players. It’s refreshing to have that.”

“I’m looking very forward to playing for him.”

One of the players Francona will be counting on to make major strides in his second full season in the big leagues is his second-baseman Jason Kipnis. Count Kipnis as someone impressed and excited by the relationship he is already forming with his new skipper.

“When you have a great relationship with your manager, it helps a lot,” Kipnis said. “When you have someone that you know is fighting for you in the dugout, you’re going to want to fight for them all the more out on the field.

“When you have someone you can look up to, you can ask questions to freely, you can speak easy in front of him and there are no boundaries or something like that, it’s a man to man conversation, it helps a lot. You get a lot more accomplished.”

Just in the short time speaking with a handful of Tribe players, the difference Francona is making in the Indians organization can already be felt. Just like the front-office, the team appears to be jump started by the life Francona has breathed into it.

Of course, those two World Series rings sure help.

“His resume speaks for itself too,” Chisenhall said. “When he talks, he’s going to be the guy you listen to. Because he’s done it before and he knows where you need to go and how you need to get there.”

From the top of the roster, to those competing for spots like right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister, every player seems to appreciate the culture Francona is trying to build.

“He’s won before and he knows what it takes,” McAllister said. “It seems like he has the right personality and the right mentality to get us over the hump a little bit and continue to make us better.”

In the end, will all of the good feelings in January translate to wins in April through October? Impossible to know.

But for now, Francona has got a good head start on changing the feel inside that Indians’ clubhouse for the better.

T.J. Zuppe covers the Cleveland Indians for ESPN 850 WKNR. Catch TJ on Munch in the Morning weekdays from 4:30a.m.-6:00a.m. on ESPN 850 WKNR and 8:00a.m.-9:00a.m. on ESPN 1540 KNR2.

Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe


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