“Friends of Francona” program honors veteran Chris Esselburn on Memorial Day weekend


Chris Esselburn and his finacee Diana

In 2013 when Terry Francona became manager of the Cleveland Indians, he started the “Friends of Francona” program as a way to recognize and give back to deserving people throughout the season. Through the program, a different person is invited to attend a select Sunday home game and receive 10 complimentary Club Lounge tickets and $20 in fun money on each ticket. All of this is paid for by Tito and WTAM.

In celebration of Memorial Day, veteran Chris Esselburn was honored during Sunday’s game, making him the first recipient of this season’s Friends of Francona tickets.

“It means a lot. You never get tired of hearing the thank you’s and things like that,” Esselburn said. “To have someone like him do that it means a lot, especially this weekend as we remember those guys who didn’t come home.”

Chris, a Wooster native and a lifelong Tribe fan, joined the Marine Corps right after high school. He became a sergeant and served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2004 and 2007-2008.

Chris and his fiancée, Diana, currently live near Buffalo, N.Y., but were in town this weekend taking engagement pictures. As soon as they got into town, Chris realized the Tribe was playing and turned the radio to WTAM hearing the familiar voice of Tom Hamilton, a person closely tied to his favorite memory of the Tribe.

“My dad used to turn the speakers on to Tom Hamilton, and I remember he had this amazing home run call. Jim Thome hit this laser beam home run out of the park, and that was one of my favorite memories,” Esselburn said. “And of course to see Omar Vizquel play; he was my favorite player growing up.”

The “Friends of Francona” selection was a complete surprise for Chris arranged by his fiancée, and kept quiet by his eight friends and family members who were also in attendance. In addition to getting tickets from Tito, Chris was recognized in the sixth inning with a scoreboard read and a Kipnis jersey – small tokens to someone that sacrificed so much for our country.

“I always tell people to look up one person. There are so many stories of valor and courage from our guys that were deployed, and some of those stories ended with those guys. We remember them on Monday,” explained Chris. “If you can, take five minutes, or a minute to look up and think about one guy who locally was deployed and maybe didn’t come home. Find out what his story is. That means more than anything – not forgetting those guys.”


–TribeVibe contributor Angela Martin

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