"I love Houston," Mills said. "The people there, the fans there were absolutely great to me. Obviously, I wish we would have won a few more games for them while I was there, but I love the city, I love the people. I still have a good relationship with a lot of those players there, and I wish them the best, except maybe when they're playing against us. Those three years my wife and I were there, we made a lot of friends and have a lot of good memories."
Mills, 56, won't be the only former person with Astros ties making a return this weekend. Brett Myers, who will start for Cleveland in Friday's series opener, spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Astros, and Houston native and former Astros All-Star outfielder Michael Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million deal with the Indians prior to this season, though he's currently on the disabled list and won't play this weekend.
Though it's been only eight months since Mills was let go, there isn't a wealth of Astros players who were around when he was the manager, and the turnover goes well beyond the roster. The Astros are in a new league, have new uniforms, and there's been enough changes behind the scenes at Minute Maid Park that Mills might have a hard time finding his way to the visiting clubhouse.
"It's going to be different, no doubt," Mills said. "It's going to be fun to see some of the fans, fun to visit with some of the players and some of the workers there at the stadium, people you gain a relationship in three years."
Mills was hired by the Astros prior to the 2010 season, taking over an aging team that was just two years removed from playoff contention. He had worked 11 seasons as a manager in the Minor Leagues, and he had spent the previous six seasons as Francona's bench coach in Boston, where they won two World Series titles.
The Astros went a respectable 76-86 in Mills' first season as manager, despite midseason trades in which veteran slugger Lance Berkman and pitcher Roy Oswalt were dealt away for prospects. The club slipped to 56-106 in 2011 and jettisoned promising younger players Hunter Pence, Bourn and Jeff Keppinger, netting more Minor Leaguers as the rebuilding process went full tilt.
"That's the direction they were going to go," Mills said. "When I took the job, they told me that's ... the direction [that] we were going to go. So you kind of have an idea that's what we're going to do. We're going to try to build a club and get going with that and move on from there."
Under new management with owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, the Astros got off a surprisingly good start last season, sitting at 22-23 in late May. But the losses began to pile up and the team began to deal away even more veterans -- pitchers Wandy Rodriguez, Myers and Brandon Lyon, third baseman Chris Johnson and first baseman Carlos Lee were all shipped off in July.
After winning only three games in July, Mills was relieved of his duties on Aug. 18 and was replaced on an interim basis by Triple-A Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco. Mills says he has no regrets about his time in Houston.
"There's always things you go through and experiences you learn from, and you move on," Mills said. "I look back at everything we went through -- good and bad -- and I tried to learn from it. ... I felt I got along good with everybody. At the same time, maybe there were some times where I didn't need to get along with everybody."
Mills took pride in the work he did with the players in the community while in Houston, and he reveled in piecing together the 25-man roster each season. Some of his best memories come from making trips to the instructional league to watch the up-and-coming prospects on whom the organization was hinging its future.
"That kind of showed how much I had bought into what we were doing and what we were trying to get done," Mills said.
Mills, who plans to drive to Orange, Texas, on Saturday with his son to visit some friends, is content being back with Francona and on a team that's built to contend, even if the Indians are off to a slow start.
"Terry's doing such a great job with this ballclub," Mills said. "We've got a real good coaching staff, and the way they're going about things is good.
"It's different, you know? You've been doing things one way for three years, but being with Terry and knowing how he does things, he does them in such a winning manner that it's a lot of fun to be back ... at third base. It's a good atmosphere."