BOSTON -- Alex Cora and Dave Roberts share a history. The two-and-a-half seasons they spent together with the Dodgers in the early 2000s formed a friendship that has lasted to and will last through this World Series, whatever the result.
And as the Red Sox and Dodgers begin the Fall Classic tonight at Fenway Park, these two friends are making history, too.
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The 114th edition of the World Series is the first to feature two minority managers -- a fact that is not lost on the Puerto Rican-born Cora or on Roberts, who is half-Japanese and half-black.
"It's special," Roberts said. "And it's not about myself or Alex. It's just to see minorities get opportunities and perform and do well, I think that gives opportunities for others. So there's responsibility, that I know that Alex shares, to do things the right way and to be good leaders. Up to this point, I think we've done a pretty good job."
For Cora, becoming the first World Series manager born in Puerto Rico takes on an added level of resonance after last year's devastating hurricanes.
"I'm proud to be here," Cora said. "I'm proud representing not only all the Puerto Ricans that live on the island but Puerto Ricans all around the world. We know what happened last year. It was a tough one. And Maria kicked our ass, you know. As a country, we've done an outstanding job fighting. We're standing up on our own two feet."
So this Series -- which begins on a street recently renamed from Yawkey Way to Jersey Street because of the alleged racist past of Tom Yawkey -- has historic value attached to it even before the first pitch is thrown and as the national pastime continues its broader efforts to ensure rosters, coaching staffs and front offices more accurately and justly represent the country in which it resides.
With the number of black players on the rise, with diversity-focused development camps like the Dream Series and the Baseball and Softball Breakthrough Series offered by MLB, and with the Diversity Pipeline Program fostering more opportunities for women and racial minorities, the sport is doing what it can to remove barriers for entry.
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The backgrounds of this year's pennant-winning skippers are one small part of the bigger picture.
"It's great," Red Sox starter David Price said. "I know what A.C. has meant to us all year long, ever since he's been here. And Mr. Roberts over there, I see how well he's had the Dodgers play ever since he's been there. Two fairly new managers, two guys who I feel command respect in their locker rooms -- from their players and coaches -- it's good to see."
The two skippers' shared background is meaningful, too. Something must have been gleaned from their many baseball conversations back in the day, because today Cora and Roberts are similarly valued and respected for the communication and relationship-building that makes their mixing-and-matching lineup strategies work so well.
All Roberts has done in three seasons with the Dodgers is win three division titles and two National League pennants. And all Cora has done in his rookie year is win 115 games, counting the American League Division Series and AL Championship Series triumphs.
These are, in other words, two successful men. And neither man is surprised by the success of the other.
Cora remembered seeing a confident quote from Roberts about the Dodgers' division chances when they were still in the midst of the early-season spiral that would put them 10 games under .500.
"I still remember D.R. saying something like, 'We will win the West,'" Cora said. "I read it and I was like, 'D.R. is crazy.' But that's who he is. He's very positive, he has a great pulse of that clubhouse and team."
When Roberts was first interviewing for the Dodgers' gig, he tried to talk Cora into potentially joining his staff, but Cora, who was enjoying a lighter schedule with ESPN and the ability to be a regular part of his daughter's life in Puerto Rico, was not yet interested in taking that plunge. But Roberts was obviously on to something.
"He has a crazy passion for the game of baseball," Roberts said of Cora. "Very detail-oriented, always curious about strategies and the why. He has that ability to really focus for three hours. And lastly, he connected people. He was always a leader. So he checks a lot of boxes. So to see him in this position, no surprise."
Both Roberts and Cora have come a long way from that day in July 2004, when Roberts got the news that he had been traded to the Red Sox and was devastated. It was Cora who tried to perk him up, reminding him that he was going to a place where people live and breathe baseball and that an enormous opportunity awaited. And when Roberts notched that stolen base in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees that is so meaningful to people here that it might as well have been included in the Book of Genesis, it was Cora who texted him and told him, "I don't know what's going to happen here, but, if this happens [and the Red Sox end the 'Curse of the Bambino'], you're going to be a hero."
Roberts and the Red Sox made history that year, and now Roberts and Cora are making history on this year's Fall Classic stage. It's but a small subplot of this World Series, but for two men who have great respect for each other and great understanding of what the game does and can represent, it's a substantial one.