FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Terry Francona stood in front of the home dugout at Jet Blue Park Thursday afternoon and answered questions from reporters as his former players took batting practice, there was no escaping the obvious.
"It's a little awkward for me,'' acknowledged Francona.
Francona was at the ballpark in his new role as ESPN color analyst, getting ready for a telecast which involved the Red Sox, the team he managed for the previous eight seasons.
"Everything right now is a little different,'' said Francona. "If I sat here and said, 'Yeah, this is just another day at the office . . .', that wouldn't be true. I'm excited to do the game. But I'll be glad when the day is over.''
In his first few weeks as a professional broadcaster, Francona is still learning on the job.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "It's the same thing as being a manager -- you wake up and try to be prepared. It's certainly different. But I've enjoyed it.''
In his new role, he said he'll be careful about what he says on the air -- about the Red Sox and others.
"I don't think I've ever set out to be critical of anybody,'' he said. "I think there's a way to say what's going on without being a bad person. I'll just be myself.''
Francona took some ribbing from reporters who heard that, while driving colleagues Dan Shulman and Claire Smith to dinner Wednesday night, he ran out of gas and. He and Shulman had to push the car down an off-ramp from Interstate I-75.
Asked to put his departure from the Red Sox last fall into perspective, Francona said: "When you go 7-20 in September, you open yourself up to criticism. You probably deserve to be criticized. I thought I tried to take some responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there things that needed to be done and it wasn't necessarily my voice that was doing the best job at that point. I thought I was pretty open and honest about that.
"What happened after that (including a story in the Boston Globe that divulged some off-field issues), hurt me a lot. It probably always will. But the best thing to do is try to move on. But I spent eight years there and we did a lot of good stuff. So that hurt me a little bit.''
In analyzing the American League East race, Francona said the season would "come down to whatever pitching staff stays the healthiest . . . That's a lot of good teams in one division.''
Francona still harbors a desire to return to the dugout, but won't rush back for any opportunity.
"My passion is being on the field,'' he said. "But I think it will be really healthy for me to step back and look at baseball without as much emotion. I think that will be good for me. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year.
"There's not too many managing jobs out there. But if it ever comes about and it makes sense, I would certainly (consider it). But it would have to make sense. I don't want to manage just for the sake of managing. I said that last time after being fired in Philadelphia. But I got this Red Sox job and it was a good one and it lasted a long time."