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Cora brothers bonded by baseball, family

Pirates third-base coach Joey rooting on younger Alex, set for first Opening Day as Red Sox manager
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

ST. PETERSBURG -- The day is finally coming on Thursday when Alex Cora realizes his dream of managing for the Red Sox on Opening Day. The setting will be under the roof at Tropicana Field.

Nearly all of the most important people in Cora's life will be there, including his baby twins, his teenage daughter, his two sisters and various other close friends and family members from Puerto Rico. His mother hates flying, so she will wait until the home opener at Fenway on April 5.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The day is finally coming on Thursday when Alex Cora realizes his dream of managing for the Red Sox on Opening Day. The setting will be under the roof at Tropicana Field.

Nearly all of the most important people in Cora's life will be there, including his baby twins, his teenage daughter, his two sisters and various other close friends and family members from Puerto Rico. His mother hates flying, so she will wait until the home opener at Fenway on April 5.

As Cora was recently putting together a guest list for the group that will root for him in St. Petersburg, it dawned on him that perhaps the most important person to him of all won't be there, and that felt odd.

It's just that Joey Cora, Alex's older brother, has some important business of his own as third-base coach for the Pirates, who open that same day at Detroit.

"I was thinking about it, 'OK, what's the plan? Who's coming, who's not?' Plane tickets and everything like that, and I was like, 'Damn, he won't be there. But he'll be watching. He'll pay attention,'" said Alex. "For how much he likes the Pirates, we've got a Red Sox fan. He'll be cheering for us and pulling for us. I know he's proud of me. That's the most important thing."

The Pirates' opener vs. the Tigers was postponed, so you can bet that Joey will park himself in front of a clubhouse television as soon as possible to watch Red Sox-Rays, which starts at 4 p.m.

You see, Alex, now 42, won't just begin living out his own dream starting Thursday, but a shared dream with a brother that he freely refers to as "my inspiration." Alex was just 13 when his father Jose Manuel died, and that that point, Joey started to emerge into his everything.

"Baseball-wise, everything he did, I tried to emulate," said Alex. "But now it's different. We've been on the same path, same path, same path all these years but now this happened. Honestly, I know he is my biggest fan, my biggest supporter and my biggest critic. People might think this is tough, the fan base and the pressure to be the manager. He's all of that in one, in a good way. He'll let me know everything I have to do -- if I'm doing well or if I'm doing bad."

This time, Alex is blazing the trail

In their baseball lives, Joey -- who is 10 years older than Alex -- had always blazed the trail. Joey went to college and played for a highly-competitive program at Vanderbilt, and would later play 1,119 games in the Major Leagues over 11 seasons. Alex wound up at a college baseball hotbed of his own at the University of Miami and went on to play 1,273 games in the big leagues over 14 seasons.

Joey would win a World Series as third-base coach for the 2005 White Sox. Alex got a ring first as a player for the '07 Red Sox, and then as bench coach for the Astros just last season.

So naturally, Joey tried to blaze the Cora trail of being a manager. He interviewed for, in his estimation, seven or eight jobs, and fell short.

This time, it is Alex who will open that particular door. But Alex is the first to tell you that he would've never even been in this position without Joey's influence and guidance.

"Without his advice, I have no idea what I would tell [Jon Daniels] with the Rangers or A.J. [Preller] with the Padres [in previous job interviews]," said Alex. "I had no clue. But he prepared me in his own way."

And when the Red Sox decided on Alex Cora as the 47th manager in club history last October, the younger Cora brother raced to his phone.

"It wasn't mixed emotions or nothing," said Joey. "I was elated. I was expecting the call and that he was going to say, 'We got it.' Which, that's what happened. He didn't say, 'I got it.' He said, 'We got it.' And that made me feel really, really good."

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Cora on first ST as skipper

Carving his own path

Given that they are as close as brothers can be, it would have surprised nobody if Joey had been hired as a coach on Alex's staff.

But before that could happen, Joey took that scenario out of play.

"I love where I'm at," he said. "I love the Pirates. They've been really good to me. I want to finish the job here. I want to win here with these guys. He's got his business. He's a Boston guy. At the end of the day, it would be kind of weird for me to be there with him."

Joey was also looking out for Alex by declining the opportunity to coach with him.

"The thing is, he's giving me my space," said Alex. "Even before I asked him to see if he wanted to be part of my coaching staff, he was straight up and he told me, 'Hey, you need room to grow, you need your space and I'm in a good place.' He was like, 'Hey, you never know, in 10, 12 years, we'll do it. But right now, I think you need to be yourself.'"

As much as Alex loves his brother, he felt a considerable amount of relief.

Imagine what it could have been like: Bottom of the eighth inning at Fenway Park and the game is on the line. Joey suggests to Alex that the Red Sox bunt. Alex disagrees, but feels incredibly weird about overruling his older brother.

"Before it happened, I wondered if being in the same coaching staff was going to help or not help our relationship," said Alex. "At the end of the day, it's a business relationship and throughout my life, whatever he said, I'll do. All of a sudden, being the manager and having him as bench coach, I don't know if it was going to be a great dynamic. We were going to make it work, but I always wondered how we were going to do this. For him to be honest like that, I think that's the best thing he's ever done for me."

Alex had planned to pay tribute to Joey by wearing No. 28 this season in his honor. But that plan fell through when the Red Sox signed star slugger J.D. Martinez, who wears that number. Alex switched to No. 20. To Joey, it was the thought that counted.

"We understand that one," said Joey. "He's the manager. He better take care of one of his best players. The intent was there. Obviously we honor and respect each other and we love each other, definitely. We're baseball guys. We love the game. We love each other. We try to help each other. The fact that he wanted to honor me wearing 28, that's great."

Tweet from @Pirates: Baseball family. Brothers Joey & Alex Cora hang out before yesterday's game. pic.twitter.com/48ro3RlMpP

Is one Cora manager enough?

There was a time when Joey was a hot managerial candidate like the one Alex turned into last offseason. But that has passed -- at least for now -- and Joey seems at peace with it.

"I think for the Cora family, one manager will be enough," said Joey. "That's good. I'm fully happy that he got it. I'm really, really excited. Honored that he wanted me on staff, but we're going to be following him and hopefully he wins every game that he manages."

For once, Alex disagrees with his brother. In his mind, one Cora manager is most certainly not enough.

"I feel like nobody is more capable than him. If I'm a GM of a big league team, I'd hire him," Alex said of Joey. "I think he's prepared, man. He knows his craft. He's getting better connecting with players. I think being around Clint [Hurdle] has helped him a lot. Being in that organization, they're really good about dealing with people and he's opened up. He's older now, but he's not that old. I feel he's capable. It's just a matter of getting a shot."

It is not lost on Alex that he might actually be able to help his brother get a shot if he is successful with the Red Sox.

"If we're successful, maybe they'll be like, 'The little brother can do it, why not him?'" said Alex. "I'm not here just to open his doors, but hopefully that happens because I feel he's a very capable baseball man."

At a time when Puerto Rico is still bouncing back from the ravaging effects of Hurricane Maria, Alex has given his country something to smile about by getting the job with Boston. And he's given past managerial hopefuls from Puerto Rico like Sandy Alomar Jr. and, yes, Joey Cora, something to smile about.

"For our community, it will be really good if he succeeds and opens the doors for other people," said Joey. "It's a big responsibility -- not only for the Boston people and Red Sox Nation, but for all of us that he succeeds. He's carrying the torch for all of us, and hopefully he does well and people realize, 'Hey, those guys are good enough to be a face of the franchise and help a team win.'"

Dream would be a Cora World Series

When Alex Cora played his first game in the Major Leagues for the Dodgers on June 7, 1998, the opponent was the Seattle Mariners, who had a second baseman playing in his final season named Joey Cora.

Talk about a thrill.

However, both men envision an event that would top it. How about a Red Sox-Pirates World Series?

"Can you imagine that? That would be amazing," said Alex. "My mom would hate it. You see [the Pirates], they have a bunch of hard-throwers and their lineup is good, they can catch the ball. You never know. In baseball with the two Wild Cards now, you've got a shot and they feel that way. I can't even imagine. Hopefully it happens."

The quest for both men to be part of a World Series team again starts anew on Thursday. They'll be in different places, but never far from each other's minds.

"I know how hard he worked, how hard he prepared for this opportunity. He wanted to be a manager, and he wanted to be the manager of the Boston Red Sox," said Joey. "That's what he wanted to do for a long time. He prepared himself for that opportunity. When the opportunity presented itself, he was ready. He hit it. He got it. Now he's going to run with it and he's going to be successful, no doubt about it."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. Adam Berry, who covers the Pirates for MLB.com, contributed to this story.

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