Cora guides Red Sox, inspires team back home in Puerto Rico

Alex Cora spent this season rewarding the support of Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price and the rest of the Boston Red Sox organization with a record-breaking year and a run deep into the playoffs. The rookie manager’s accomplishments go further than the baseball diamond, too.

Having seen his homeland of Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria, Cora remains at the forefront of helping the island rebuild.

“It’s been a year since the hurricane and Puerto Rico is still recovering. We all have families over there and we know that the situation remains difficult,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero said.

“Alex has that always in mind. I admire that. We are always talking about it. Hopefully, this can bring a little bit of relief to the people, that they have a Puerto Rican hero in such a big state, so important,” he said.

Cora has a lot of people rooting for him right now. His team is one win from reaching the World Series, leading Houston 3-1 in the AL Championship Series.

Romero grew up on the island and his dad, Ed, played in the World Series for the Red Sox. So Cora’s efforts especially resonate with him.

“Alex is always thinking about them. That’s very nice,” Romero said.

Cora had his mind set on aiding those in need from the very beginning of his first stint as a big league manager. While negotiating his contract last October, he made a request that the Red Sox front office supply aid to Puerto Rico, which the club eagerly accepted.

Then, Cora flew to his hometown of Caguas with team president Sam Kennedy to deliver food and supplies.

Boston catcher Christian Vazquez, whose walk-up song is “Vamos Pa’ La Calle” by a fellow Puerto Rican, popular artist Bad Bunny, later joined Cora to lend a hand.

Last year, Vazquez dyed his hair blonde to pay homage to the team that made a run to the championship game against the United States in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Cora was the general manager for that club and played infield for Puerto Rico in 2006 and 2009.

Cora’s profound love for his homeland is ever-present in his actions. During his introductory news conference, he put the spotlight on his platform by raising the Puerto Rican flag as his daughter wiped away tears.

“Whenever I have the chance to talk about them or represent them the right way, I have to do it,” Cora said during this month’s playoffs. “But for as proud they are — because they are — I’m prouder of them.”

“For us to be in the situation we’re in as a country right now, after what happened last year, that’s a W right there. That’s a winning team right there. And I’m very proud of them,” he said.

For Cora, Hispanic Heritage Month that ended Monday provided a lot of reminders.

The Red Sox clinched the AL East title on Sept. 20, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. Cora went on to lead the Red Sox to a team-record 108 wins in the regular season.

Cora capped off the month by guiding the Red Sox into the ALCS for the first time since 2013. He confidently stuck with Bradley and Price, who both overcame past struggles to deliver in this series.

On and off the field, it’s been a historic season for Cora.

Cora is the first Latino or minority manager for a franchise that was the last team in the majors to have a black player. In a year that saw Yawkey Way renamed to Jersey Street — team owner John Henry said the previous name, for a former owner, was a disturbing reminder of the club’s history of racial intolerance — Cora has done a lot in Massachusetts for a state that is home to the fifth-largest Puerto Rican community.

In the ALCS, Cora’s team is taking on Houston and shortstop Carlos Correa, a star when the Astros won their first World Series title last year. Cora was the bench coach on that championship team.

Correa also has been actively leading relief efforts in Puerto Rico. He recognizes all Cora has done for those who hail from an island that considers baseball a national treasure.

“He means a lot. I’m pretty sure people in Puerto Rico are watching his games and obviously wishing him the best. But now he’s facing the Astros, and Carlos Correa is on this side, so they’re going to be split between him and me. I’m pretty sure everyone is excited to watch those games,” Correa said.

Puerto Ricans across the globe have certainly raised a glass to toast Cora’s contributions. And perhaps the celebrations will carry on a little longer this year to celebrate a championship for the boy from Caguas who has become a leader.

After all, Cora has carried more than a clubhouse this postseason. He has used his broad shoulders to carry the entire island.

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AP Sports Writers Eric Nunez, Kyle Hightower and Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.

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More AP MLB: www.apnews.com/tag/MLB and www.twitter.com/AP—Sports

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