Terry Francona and The Wrestler - Tucson News Now

Terry Francona and The Wrestler

Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – The schedule had Team U.S.A. practicing inside the stadium but it was clear upon arrival that practice wasn’t going to happen. The stadium was already filled with a good crowd awaiting what looked to be like a wrestling exhibition.

So there they stood in right field, three coaches and twenty players from the 1979 United States Pan American baseball team, all of them wondering what to do next. Except, when the San Juan, Puerto Rico clouds opened up and the rain started to drizzle, Jerry Kindall glanced around and noticed something. There weren’t twenty players. There were eighteen.

Two were missing.

“Where’s Terry?” called out the University of Arizona baseball coach. No one seemed to have a clue.

That’s because twenty-year-old Terry Francona, the guy who eleven months later would help Arizona win the 1980 College World Series title then go on to become a two-time World Series champion manager, had disappeared with teammate Mark Strucker. Their intention? To put on a show.

“We snuck around and got into our shorts,” said Francona. “We took the wrestling ring and jumped in.”

“I’m sitting way out in the bleachers,” said Kindall. “Is that Terry? Is that Terry doing that? I hollered at him but he kept right on.”

“People were going crazy,” said Francona. “We were doing some of the moves. Nobody knew who we were. Then some of the guys started to realize.”

Kindall was at least amused.

"I let it go," he said. "We all began to laugh."

“When we got back,” said Francona, “Coach Kindall was like, ‘That was good. That was funny. Now you carry the bats the rest of the trip.’” Francona lets out a deep laugh then continues. “That was his way kind of getting the chuckle out of it but also telling me to get my uniform back on and get in line.”

“He’s a great practical joker but a great person,” said Kindall. “I just love him.”

Tuesday, Francona reciprocated that love to Kindall, the rest of his college coaches, teammates and his alma mater. It came in the form of a one million dollar pledge to the Wildcat baseball program, money that will be used to construct what will be known as the Terry Francona Hitting Facility behind Hi Corbett’s right field wall.

“I really did want to give back,” said Francona Tuesday wearing a navy t-shirt with the slogan Bear Down written in red. “The UofA has really given me everything I have in baseball. I owe the coaches and the school everything that I’ve learned.”

“My heart is really jumping,” said Kindall. “It’s such a great gesture for Terry to do that for the program, for all of us here. I thank him for that.”

“The commitment of somebody like that at that level is second to none,” said Arizona head coach Jay Johnson. “It tells you everything you need to know about the person and I think that’s what I’m most excited about. His name is going to go on that facility.”

Construction on the facility is to begin in the summer with completion scheduled for next fall. For Francona, it’s one giant way to say thanks.

“Those three years here, I learned how to act and how to behave,” said Francona. “Not just in the game but outside the game. It was the best experience I could ever imagined.”

Now with his help, future Wildcat baseball players will likely share in that experience. The wanna-be-wrestler turned sure fire Hall of Famer has come full circle.

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