BOSTON — If Alex Cora had chosen this offseason to anchor down in Boston, to go blind to the outside world, he would have been within his rights. He may even have drawn praise from some corners. A first-time manager, understandably, could easily become obsessed with the newness of that title at the expense of everything that brought him to it.
Every time Cora has boarded a plane this offseason to visit hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, he has signaled to those paying attention that he is a man unchanged. On Tuesday morning — with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and Rick Porcello at his side — Cora again boarded a plane to Puerto Rico, this one a JetBlue flight from Logan Airport loaded with helping hands and supplies for his ailing homeland.
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“For me, people see me with a backpack and jeans [here], and back home in shorts and sandals, and they tell me, ‘Do you realize you’re the manager of the Boston Red Sox?’” Cora said. “I’m like ‘Yes, I do, but nothing is going to change from my end.’ … I’m 42. I’m going to live my life. And I understand that this is a big-time job in our business, but at the same time, if I change who I am, well, I wasn’t the right guy for this job.
“This is something that I really like — you know, I like doing this. It’s been a great time the last two months, being home, being here, being home, being here. Looking forward to next week, but right now, going back home, I think, is the greatest thing that has happened the last two months.”
Cora’s been spending plenty of time getting to know his Red Sox players and staff. But his affinity and dedication to his roots, to Puerto Rico's recovery, are indicative of his mindset as not just a field manager, but a person — and the job is to manage people first and foremost.
There were nearly 10 tons of supplies on board a plane with Sox regalia painted on it, a full-size passenger plane hauling vaccines and supplies for Hospital Pediatrico Universitario in San Juan, in addition to food, batteries, hygiene products and toys. There was even baseball equipment.
Cora could have just written a check. Same for Porcello, same for Kennedy and the Red Sox. Chris Sale and Christian Vazquez were slated to join the envoy in Puerto Rico as well.
Cora had long planned and hoped to do something like this.
“For all the expectations for the 2018 season, and knowing what the fan base and everybody here expects out of the team, not to be selfish, but I was looking forward to this day more than even Opening Day,” Cora said. “It’s been tough for us [in Puerto Rico] the last 4-4 1/2 months back home. Throughout the season, you know the end of the season, I felt like I wasn’t able to do enough to help our countrymen because of work and other stuff that went on in November.”
“And when I brought up the plane and my plan to Dave [Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski] and ownership, they didn’t hesitate. This is going to be a great day for us. Not only for the Cora family, and the Red Sox, but I think for Puerto Rico. People are looking forward to this and we’re going to have a great time back home.”
The idea fits perfectly with 100X35, a JetBlue initiative to help the island now and for the long haul.
The group on Tuesday was to visit Cora’s hometown of Caguas as well.
“I know how proud they are of what has happened in my life,” Cora said. “But I’m prouder of what they have done the last few months. … They’ve been fighting. There’s a lot of communities over there [where] the struggle is real.”
Hurricane Maria killed dozens, knocked out power to 3.4 million residents, and damaged and destroyed tens of millions of dollars in housing.
“We need help, we need help," Cora said. "And this is just part of it. In the beginning, it was more about food and water, the needs have changed. When only 50 percent of the Island has power, there’s some places that they don’t have power, they don’t have water. It’s tough. People concentrate only on San Juan, the metropolitan area. The tourism where people go just to hang out. That looks great but go to the mountains, go to where we’re going to be today. On a daily basis, they’re in need.”