SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The two men who shaped Mets infielder Alex Cora share the same name and the same blood. They are his father, Jose Manuel Cora, and his older brother, Jose Manuel Cora.
In Caguas, Puerto Rico, the town where Alex grew up, the first man was called “Macuco.” In professional baseball, the second man is called “Joey.”
Alex Cora’s father indoctrinated him into the game. “That was my passion,” Alex said. “That’s all I talked. That’s all I did.”
His brother, now the bench coach for the Chicago White Sox, provided a blueprint for Alex with his own 11-season career in the major leagues. “Obviously,” Joey said, “he can draw on the experiences that I had to make the right decisions.”
Neither will be in San Juan tonight as Cora and the Mets open a three-game series with the Florida Marlins. But their spirit, their lessons, will be inside of the 34-year-old utility man. As his skills wane — his batting average dipped to .229 after an 0-for-3 afternoon on Saturday — Cora retains value for his team on the field and in the clubhouse. The Mets sport an infield featuring a quartet of 20-somethings. Cora provides guidance.
Inside the dugout, he often consults with infield coach Chip Hale to make sure rookies Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada are positioned properly, reading signals correctly, holding runners effectively. Sometimes he sneaks away to the clubhouse video room to rewind the game tape and check on the kids. There is talk that, in time, he will follow in his brother’s footsteps again.
“He’s definitely going to manage in his future,” Hale said. “He’ll be a coach. He’ll coach, manage, whatever he wants. He’s got a wealth of knowledge.”
Those roots were planted in the mountain town of Caguas. Cora’s father, Jose Manuel, founded the Little League team there, about 30 minutes away from San Juan. He traveled the Puerto Rican winter ball circuit as a broadcaster and writer, cataloging the exploits of a league which featured stateside stars like Don Mattingly, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken. Alex often went with him, crawling the bleachers and napping in the press box.
“When they talk about us, they’re like ‘Those are Macuco’s kids,’ ” Cora said. “It’s not Joey. It’s not Alex. People keep talking about him.”
When Alex was 13, Jose Manuel died. Their father, Alex remembered, taught Joey how to switch-hit when he was in his mid-teens. Alex never got the chance. His career, he insisted last week, “would have been a lot better if he was around.”
In the aftermath of his father’s death, Alex followed Joey’s example. Joey, now 45, left Puerto Rico for Vanderbilt and become a first-round pick in 1985. Eight years later, when Alex graduated high school, Detroit drafted him. He declined signing and enrolled at the University of Miami. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the third round of the 1996 draft.
Fifteen years later, he is still here. Never an All-Star, he posted an adjusted OPS score above the league average just once (a 119 mark for the Dodgers in 2002). Since 2006, he has hit five home runs.
Yet he remains. His true value, Cora said, appears on winning squads. There, he can subjugate his ego and aid those around him. He tutored Boston teammate Dustin Pedroia for much of 2007, a season that culminated in a World Series victory.
As Alex bounced from Los Angeles to Cleveland to Boston to Citi Field, Joey climbed the coaching ranks. He managed minor-league affiliates of the Mets and the Montreal Expos. In 2004, Joey joined Ozzie Guillen’s staff in Chicago. He estimates he and his brother call each other four to five times a week.
Last week, their interests dovetailed. The Mets faced a pair of A.L. Central teams. The White Sox hosted Atlanta. They traded scouting reports. “That’s the way it works,” Joey said.
Sometimes Alex picks his brother’s brain about life after his playing career ends. Joey hears the talk about Alex one day becoming a coach. So does Alex. He believes he can still play. But he knows what lies ahead.
“I’m learning each day,” Alex Cora said. “And although my mind is here to win a championship and help this team to win games, every day I learn something new. I think that’s going to help me in the future.”
Andy McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A few current and former players of Puerto Rican descent may be in line for managing positions down the road:
Edwin Ramirez: Interim manager of Marlins; first Puerto Rican to ever manage in MLB history; signed by Yankees in 1980.
Alex Cora: Mets infielder; tutored Dustin Pedroia in Boston; known to soak in information.
Joey Cora: Older brother of Alex; former All-Star in Seattle; now Ozzie Guillen’s understudy with White Sox.
Mike Lowell: Starred at third base for both Marlins and Red Sox; widely respected within the game.
Jose Molina: Catcher for Blue Jays; personal catcher to A.J. Burnett in 2009; known for exceptional game-calling.