Francona's beloved scooter stolen, stripped as Cleveland's manager gets ready to say goodbye to game
Terry Francona made it to the home finale, his last managing the Guardians before retirement.
His beloved scooter didn't get there.
Just hours before Cleveland fans saluted the popular manager, who is leaving baseball after 11 seasons with the club, Francona revealed that the celebrated motorized scooter he rode to and from Progressive Field for the past several seasons was stolen for the second time.
"The hog has been officially put on ice," Francona said, using the pet nickname for his ride before Wednesday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds. "It got stolen again, but this time they stripped it."
Francona said the two-wheeled vehicle was swiped about 10 days ago. It was first stolen in January but recovered by Cleveland Police.
"Been in mourning," he said. "They got it in the clubhouse under a blanket. Looks like they took a baseball bat to it."
The 64-year-old recently hopped on a substitute electric scooter, but the ride wasn't the same. He veered out of the way to avoid hitting some pedestrians, caught a pothole on a cobblestone street near his downtown apartment and crashed.
"I went over the handlebars," he said, "I mean over. It's amazing how much you can see of your life in that moment."
Jokes aside, and it was fitting the moments before Francona's finale included some light-hearted one-liners from him, the last home game in 2023 is a bittersweet celebration.
It's hard for the Guardians and their fans to say goodbye to the longest tenured and winningest manager in the club's 123-year history -- one baseball's all-time characters.
Although he hasn't officially announced his retirement, Francona is expected to do so formally early next week.
His departure will be a loss for baseball.
"For me, just to be here on his last home game means a lot," said Reds manager David Bell, who has known for decades. "The thing I know about Tito is that everyone who has ever worked with him loves him. I'm sure this emotional."
Francona didn't want a special ceremony for his final home game, but he relented to the team handing out 20,000 red "Thank You Tito" T-shirts.
"The most frustrating part is I can't wear the T-shirt because it's me," Francona cracked beforehand. "I mean, it's a nice T-shirt. I love it when we get free stuff, but I can't wear it."
Shortly before the first pitch, the team paid homage to Francona's run in Cleveland with a touching video tribute that chronicled his deep connection with the franchise (his dad, Tito, spent six seasons as an outfielder with the Indians) as well as his managerial stint.
When it finished, Francona emerged from the dugout and tipped his cap at the cheering fans. He retreated for a moment before coming back out for a curtain call.
Francona wasn't sure what kind of emotions he would be feeling as Cleveland said goodbye.
"Probably more uncomfortable than anything," he said. "I know it's a nice gesture, not dismissing that part of it. My joy is what I do every day and who I do it with."
Francona, who is 13th on the career wins list with 1,9xx, has battled serious health issues in recent years and wants to move on before the game beats him up further.
"It got harder," said Francona, who came to terms with his future in July. "That's why I'm going to shut it down. ... I'm going to go get my body patched up again for about the 80th time and I'm going to try to go get healthy and I'm in no rush."
Francona insisted upon keeping the spotlight on his players during the season's final month and he spoke with them before the series opener so they weren't caught off-guard by anything in their final days together.
He's been a beloved figure in Cleveland -- and beyond.
"To be in this game that long and be respected and liked by everyone you have ever come across is amazing," said Bell, whose father, Buddy, played with Francona and hired him as a coach. "From a player's standpoint, I would love to play for Tito and I think most of his players do. To get the most out of your players but also to be well-liked by so many people, in this game that's everything.
"An incredible career."
Francona's teams were always in the playoff hunt despite having one of baseball's lowest payrolls. In 2016, the team came within one swing of winning their first World Series since 1948 before losing in seven games to the Chicago Cubs.
Before the finale, Francona reflected a bit on his managerial career, which began in Philadelphia in 1997 and ended after four years with his car's tires being slashed on fan appreciation day.
Asked what he'd miss most, Francona said "easy answer is the people."
And there's that short ride home.
"It's the greatest setup ever," he said. "I don't know too many places where after games, the police are either high-fiving or telling you, `Hey, just hang in there or cut around this car.' I mean it, it's been nice."
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