It wasn’t until the offseason that Terry Francona realized how important the Indians’ 22-game winning streak was.
“I honestly didn’t realize it at the time,” Francona said backstage Wednesday at the 18th annual Cleveland Sports Awards. “I tell them, ‘We play today and then turn the page and move on.’ I don’t know that I took the time to enjoy it the way I should have.”
The winning streak was recognized at the awards show, as was Corey Kluber, who was named professional athlete of the year.
Kluber wasn’t at the event at the Renaissance in downtown Cleveland, but relayed his thanks in a taciturn video appearance.
“Was it just me, or did he look like he just got pulled over for a DUI,” Francona joked.
Kluber made it a point to thank his catchers, including Roberto Perez, who accepted the award on his behalf.
“I think we’re all looking forward to bigger and better things in 2018,” Kluber said in the video.
Francona was even more blunt, noting the loss in the American League Division Series to the Yankees still stung.
“We want to win so bad,” he said. “And I promise we’ll be coming back with a vengeance.”
Perez is most looking forward to a two-game set in Puerto Rico in April. The Indians will play the Twins in Hiram Bithorn Stadium on April 17-18, a real treat for Perez, a native of Mayaguez.
“I have a lot of friends and family who can’t come to the United States to watch me,” Perez said, estimating he’ll probably give out 100 tickets. “That week I’ll probably play for free, I have so many tickets to give out.”
Puerto Rico is continuing to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and Perez said the natural disaster had one unexpected positive benefit: It brought a lot of Puerto Rican players and former players back into contact with each other. Perez said he’d been texting regularly with Alex Cora – who was named the new manager of the Red Sox – and Carlos Correa, even if he didn’t watch Correa through the postseason after the Indians were eliminated.
“People from Puerto Rico are so resilient,” he said. “They find a way.”
Francona, who presented an award at the banquet and looks forward to going to a couple Cavs games this weekend as well as Tribefest on Saturday, is adjusting to a team that’s different in some places. “We lost some pretty good players,” he said.
Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies, and Francona can’t begrudge him that.
“He got rewarded, and sometimes we’re not going to be that team,” he said. “We’d rather give them that first contract.”
The Indians signed Yonder Alonso, but Francona hinted more moves might be at hand, saying, “There’s still some winter to go.”
The Indians have been able to sign players off the discard pile and get a lot of production from them – like Austin Jackson last year and Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli the year before – and Francona thinks Melvin Upton can be that player this year.
“There’s always someone,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he comes in and does a good job.”
The Indians also lost Bryan Shaw, who signed with Colorado. Francona noted that he ate innings – and usually did it well.
“You lose Bryan Shaw, you’re going to need a pitcher and a half,” he said.
But the rotation remains in place, and Francona says that counts for a lot.
“It’s a lot easier to appear smarter when you have good pitching,” he said.