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Return to Cleveland a Francona family affair

Return to Cleveland a Francona family affair

Return to Cleveland a Francona family affair
CLEVELAND -- Tito Francona smiled on Monday as he recalled his first drive up to Cleveland so many decades ago. When the city was within view, just breathing everything in let him know he could get to like this town.

"I saw the steel mills and saw all the smoke," Francona said. "I took a good whiff of it and said, 'You know what? This is just like home.'"

Home for Francona is New Brighton, Pa., a steel town located roughly two hours southeast of Cleveland, where Francona suited up for the Indians during the 1950s and '60s. Cleveland always felt like his second home, so Francona was thrilled to be back inside Progressive Field on Monday morning.

That is where the Indians officially introduced Terry Francona -- Tito's son -- as the 42nd manager in the franchise's long history. During his press conference, Terry Francona offered a warm smile and thanked his dad for being there, along with his wife, Jean.

It was clearly a special moment for the Francona family.

Terry will never forget telling his dad he was going to be the manager of the Indians.

"I kind of cried a little bit," Terry Francona said. "I didn't want to, but it just happens. You can't take a job because your dad was a good Indian, but it's still a good story. My dad spent six years here. This is my third stint with the Indians, and it's pretty special. So it was a little emotional."

Terry Francona played for the Indians in 1988, worked in the front office in 2001 and is now the team's manager on a four-year contract.

Tito, 78, played for the Tribe as an outfielder and first baseman from 1959-64, making the American League All-Star team in '61. In 1959, Tito hit .363 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs, but he fell short of the plate appearances required for qualifying for the batting crown. Detroit's Harvey Kuenn took home that honor with a .353 average.

"In '59, that was one of the greatest years we ever had here," Tito Francona said. "I thought we should've won the pennant that year."

"That was actually the year I was born," said Terry Francona, who also answers to the name Tito. "[He] is the best father that a son could ever ask for. That's my dad. That's the real Tito."

Needless to say, Tito Francona was thrilled that his son took the Indians' managerial job.

"When he mentioned it to me, I said, 'Terry, stop right there,'" Tito said. "I didn't want to get my hopes up high, not until he had his name on that line. I lost a lot of sleep over this, because I kept thinking about this: 'Gee, is it a reality?' He told me to keep my mouth shut until today. That was so hard.

"We told some of our family members and we're so proud of him now. I know you're going to enjoy having him around. He's a good speaker. Where he got it from, I don't know."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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