"I think that's good," said right-hander Daniel Bard. "That's a tough personal decision for him the way things ended here for him a few months ago. But he's such a big part of the recent history of the team and the ballpark. I think it's only appropriate that he's here."
Last week, Francona told The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy that the wounds were still too fresh from his parting with the team last September to be part of such a festive occasion.
What led to the change of heart?
Francona told ESPN -- his current employer for whom he will broadcast Sunday night's Red Sox-Yankees game -- that he owed it to the fans to take part in Friday's celebration.
In eight seasons with the Red Sox, Francona guided the club to five postseason appearances. Boston won the World Series in 2004 and '07, and Francona is the only manager in baseball history to win his first eight World Series games.
"He won two World Series here," said center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "You build relationships over the years. I'm sure the fans and players will give him a nice reception."
The Red Sox invited every living former player and manager in team history to Friday's ceremony.
"I think it's great," Dustin Pedroia said. "I'm excited to see him. I'm sure everybody else is. I'm sure the fans will enjoy it. It's a pretty big thing we're doing here for the 100th year, and he's a huge part of this organization."
The ovation for Francona figures to be overwhelmingly positive.
"I hope so," said Pedroia. "There's not a manager to do what he's done here. He was pretty important to this organization for a long period of time, so I'm sure the fans will be excited to see him."