"I interviewed in St. Louis [in 2011] and didn't get the job," Francona said. "I needed to re-evaluate some things. That's not an easy thing to do. I love being in the dugout. That's all I've ever done. But being away, I got to learn a ton at ESPN. They treated me like gold.
"When you are the manager, you feel so responsible for so many people. To not have to be responsible for a while was good for me. I started missing the game which was good. When [Indians GM] Chris Antonetti called I think maybe that surprised people. Chris is the smartest guy in the room that doesn't make you feel dumb. That's a compliment."
He said he felt Cleveland was the right landing spot.
Now he's sure it is.
He talked about how great it was to have his buddy Mills back with him on the bench, so he can be himself. He ran through each of his coaches, proud changes were made without simply throwing everyone out. He raved about Jason Giambi. His team, one of baseball's genuine surprises, leads the league in home runs and has won 22 of the past 31 to lead the AL Central.
"It doesn't necessarily make headlines, but we lost good coaches [in Boston] and that made it harder," he said.
Last year in spring training, he said he wasn't ready for the hugs yet.
"I was trying to stay out of the way," Francona said. "The one time I did go in the clubhouse in New York I got crushed."
Not on this night. There was only love and chants of "Tito!" Yes, this was Tito's night at the ballpark.
"I didn't want to make it harder on our players before the game," Francona said. "I kept my emotions inside. I was honored and also thrilled they showed [other former Red Sox personnel on the Indians as part of the video]. To share that was pretty awesome."
That's why he patted his heart.