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A man for all seasons

Two-and-a-half hours to game time and Terry Francona is sitting in his leather chair in his windowless Fenway Park office uttering words that no one would expect a Red Sox manager to say: ''I love Boston."

I have come to get Terry's take on all things everything because, to be honest, no longer can I get enough. I want to hear Terry on Mitt Romney's presidential ambitions. I want to hear Terry on how to fix the Big Dig leaks. I want to hear Terry on the space shuttle.

But first, Terry says of Boston: ''This winter, we're staying up here. We're moving here. I'm looking forward to taking my kids to a Celtics game, to a Patriots game. I love the -- how do I put this? -- the flavor of the city. And it's got a lot of culture, which my wife loves."

Music, absolute music, every word a beautifully rhythmic note.

Believe me, I didn't always feel this way. In the early days of his first season, he talked funny and didn't carry a stick. Soon enough, the star players were walking all over him, the reporters and sultans of talk radio were shredding him, and the owners, it seemed, would lack the patience to let him grow into the slot.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that he'd be gone by October, yet another Red Sox manager ground down by the ridiculous strains of the city's most over-analyzed job.

But a funny thing happened on the way to his demise. Francona has prospered, not just on the field, but off it, providing much-needed perspective to a fan base that long ago lost it.

He manages what is easily the most eccentric team in baseball; he answers to a celebrity general manager; he is covered by the most knowledgeable news media in the country. But while past managers have gone into a shell, Francona has shed his, becoming a crucial star in a fascinating show.

And he's sitting in his office laughing about it, seemingly sincere in his nonchalance.

''We take what we're doing very seriously here," he says. ''But I try not to take myself too seriously. I try to stay grounded."

I ask if it's the World Series championship that has changed him.

''That's not what it is," Francona says. ''It's that I know people better, whether in the media or the players. You can be more relaxed and more yourself. It's easier to show your personality when you're in your comfort zone. Last season, sometimes I tried to be bland, if you know what I mean.

''Until you live through it, you can never understand it. This is almost overwhelming, but I don't think I've ever been overwhelmed."

This year, he has razzed and lauded players in public. He tells it like it is, dialed into every question, matter of fact in his answers.

If he has an obvious fault as a manager, it's a virtue as a human being: He is fiercely loyal, occasionally declining to pinch hit for an inexperienced batter or calling on a struggling reliever one too many times or keeping the slumping second baseman on the field after he should be riding the pine.

''I try so hard to look at every number, every way we can get an advantage," he says. He pauses here in that way he does and adds: ''I'll never forget we have 25 people out there, and you're constantly managing people. You are dealing with people's confidence."

I ask if he is able to dine out without being bothered, and he says he rarely tries.

''I've been out to eat twice," he says, before his son, lounging on a nearby couch, interjects that it's more than that. So he adds, ''We go to Zaftigs." He taps his desk and adds, ''It's easier to eat here."

The fans, he says, are ''nutso," but he's quick to add, ''People are really cool to me."

They should be. Like Joe Torre in New York, he's the type of guy you don't just want on your team, but in your city, for a long time to come.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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