Checking In With Francona at Winter Meetings

<b>ANAHEIM</b> – Believe it or not, Terry Francona's life hasn't taken on some kind of magical spell since his Red Sox shattered the 86-year-old 'Curse of the Bambino.'

Sure, he's taking on some new speaking engagements and opening supermarkets in the Boston area. It's all nice Christmas spending money for a guy who'd never tasted victory champagne before, but, as Francona cracks, "I still clean the gutters, and I still take the garbage out."

Good to see that the man at the helm of the team that changed New England's very outlook on life hasn't changed himself. But Francona is only human, and he admits it'd be impossible to maintain a statue-esque pose when talking about his team.

"It was really exciting for me," Francona said. "The best part was the last game [of the World Series], but living through it was the most exciting thing. The parade, coming back to Fenway, that was cool."

By the time Francona makes his next trip to Yawkey Way in uniform, his Red Sox club will be a whole lot different than the group of guys who rode Duck Boats toward the Charles River amid a chaos of confetti. The Red Sox continue to negotiate with the agents for catcher Jason Varitek and righthander Pedro Martinez, among others, but appear to have already added a new face to the pitching rotation in 41-year-old lefty David Wells.

Francona wouldn't comment directly on Wells' signing, insisting that it wasn't a done deal even as the Associated Press reported the two-year contract as final.

Still, Francona – who has been attending pow-wows with GM Theo Epstein upstairs in a hotel suite mostly as a silent onlooker – isn't surprised that the Red Sox Nation will have a new club to embrace come 2005.

"We knew it was going to eventually change somewhat, whether we win or lose," Francona said. "[With] what we did, I'm thrilled. But we've got guys upstairs trying to figure out how we can do it again. Maybe we can win even more games the next time around."

It looks a lot like the assemblage that attempts that feat will have two strange bedfellows making up 40 percent of their starting rotation. Martinez, after brief dalliances with the New York Yankees and New York Mets, appears ready to return to his true 'daddy' in Boston, joining former Yankee nemesis Wells.

Francona said he wasn't stunned that Martinez elected to test the market this winter, and downplayed rumors that he and Martinez weren't on speaking terms.

"Pedro has his own schedule. I try not to interfere," Francona said. "I know he's getting his work done. Some guys don't need you to be their best friend. He's won a lot of games for us."

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