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Why is Terry Francona an Arizona fan? Former MLB manager cheers on Wildcats basketball team in retirement

Arizona is routinely one of the best college basketball teams in the NCAA, so it’s no surprise that they have their share of superfans.

That said, the identity of one such fan might throw some sports fans for a bit of a loop.

Terry Francona is a big-time supporter of the Wildcats, and he has been by their side during the 2023-24 NCAA season after his retirement.

Francona called it quits after 23 years as an MLB manager and 42 years in the sport total as a player and coach. He spent time with the Phillies, Red Sox, and Guardians during his managerial career but has now hung up his cleats for a pair of gym sneakers that allow him to watch the Wildcats play in peace.

Arizona is a fun team to watch, as UNC transfer Caleb Love is now in charge of its offense. He is averaging 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per game as a driving force for the Wildcats while coach Tommy Lloyd led the team to a 25-8 record and a Pac 12 regular-season title in the league’s final year as currently constructed.

But why does Francona back the Wildcats, and why is he attending some of Arizona’s March Madness contests? Here’s what to know about the 64-year-old’s Arizona fandom and how it was fostered.

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Why is Terry Francona at Arizona’s March Madness games?

Francona is at Arizona’s March Madness games because he is a Wildcats superfan. He planned on attending the team’s opening-round NCAA Tournament games if they were placed in the Salt Lake City, Utah regional, and sure enough, they were.

Francona rarely misses a Wildcats game when they’re at home. He lives 10 minutes away from the McKale Memorial Center and attended all but one home game during the 2023-24 college basketball season.

“I’m a fan, man,” he told Zach Buchanan of Defector. “It’s different, and it’s OK. F—, I love watching them play.”

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Francona doesn’t just attend games though. He is a fixture at Wildcats practices, having fostered a relationship with Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd during the 49-year-old’s early days with the Wildcats.

While Francona claims his full-fledged support for the Wildcats stems from his fandom, Lloyd believes that the 64-year-old still gets a thrill out of elements of the game related to coaching.

“I catch his eyes during the game,” Lloyd told Defector, “and he’s also watching it as a coach and a competitor.”

Francona’s love of Arizona basketball may mean he will tag along with the team as long as they are in the tournament. He hasn’t decided yet.

MORE: Buy tickets to 2024 March Madness games

Either way, he’s getting a thrill out of Arizona’s run and hopes to watch them win, something he didn’t get to do closely in 1997. He was a first-year manager with the Phillies when the Wildcats were crowned NCAA champions.

Francona is hoping for a similar result in 2024, and he believes the feeling will be different than the two World Series rings he earned with the Red Sox in ’04 and ’07.

“Winning the World Series is incredible, but it’s also your job. About 10 minutes later, I’m like, ‘What’s next?'” Francona told Buchanan. “If we win here, I’ll go to a parade on my own.”

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Where did Terry Francona go to college?

Part of the reason that Francona is such a big fan of Arizona is because it’s his alma mater. He played baseball at the school in 1979 and ’80, appearing in 132 games and recording a .389/.444/585 slash line with 13 homers and 165 RBIs.

Francona led Arizona to a College World Series win in 1980. He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and also won the Golden Spikes award for the 1980 MLB season.

Francona’s performance during Arizona’s 1980 run was good enough to make him a first-round selection of the Montreal Expos in the 1980 MLB Draft. He was selected 22nd overall and went on to have a nine-year MLB career as a player.

From there, Francona became a coach and eventually a manager. He posted a .274/.300/.351 slash line with 16 homers and 143 RBIs as a player before compiling a 1,950-1,672 record as a manager with the two aforementioned World Series wins to his name.

Francona’s 1,950 victories rank 13th most in MLB history and were third-most among active MLB managers at the time of his retirement. He trailed only Dusty Baker (2,183) and Bruce Bochy (2,093).

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Where is Terry Francona from?

Francona takes up residence in Arizona now, but he was born in Aberdeen, S.D. and grew up in New Brighton, Pa.

His father, Tito Francona, played for nine different MLB teams during his career, seven of which came after Terry’s birth. That included five years with Cleveland and one year with Philadelphia — both teams that eventually employed the younger Francona as manager.

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