Sox as excited about Cora's return as he is

February 28th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was just after 1 p.m. on Sunday when Red Sox manager Alex Cora lined up with his players for the national anthem at Hammond Stadium. A couple of minutes later, he ran out to home plate for the exchange of lineup cards with his Twins counterpart, Rocco Baldelli.

These used to be such obligatory moments for Cora. But for this one day, they became special again.

After 16 months of being unable to manage a baseball game, those ceremonious moments just before his team started the Grapefruit League season were another marker of his return to the post he hopes not to have to leave again for a long time.

What Cora enjoyed most on Sunday was just being in the dugout and all the banter that came with it in what wound up as a 7-6 loss to the Twins.

“It was amazing just to walk around, talk baseball, teach the game,” said Cora. “I put myself in that situation last year, and now I’m back. Like I said before, I thank [chief baseball officer] Chaim [Bloom] for the opportunity to give me a shot at the job, and to trust me that I can do this job. But this is what I do: talk baseball, enjoy the game, teach the kids about what they have to do. It was a fun day, and it’s been fun since I got back.”

Although this was a day Cora had been anticipating for some time, the impact of his return actually started the second Spring Training got underway on Feb. 18.

The Cora effect has been noticeable to anyone who has watched him around camp, or to anyone who has listened to players, coaches or front-office members talk about him.

“He kind of brings a lot of calmness, kind of like, 'You know what? Everything is going to be all right,'” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “He’s a guy that’s very likable, very lovable within the organization and with the players. He’s well-respected. I know a lot of guys that will want to play for him and guys that were on the team that do miss him and do miss being around here. It speaks to what kind of person he is, that competitor who always wants to win, and most times things are going to work out pretty much the way he says.”

The way that Cora can be a motivator to some, a father figure to others and a friend to many while still maintaining his authority over the club is what makes him special.

“Just the confidence he has in me and the belief and the way he pushes me,” said third baseman Rafael Devers. “That’s something that has helped me tremendously. He’s someone that I can talk to about anything. He’s someone that just knows how to communicate with me, no matter what it is that I’m talking to him about."

While many are reveling in being able to reunite with Cora, others are enjoying the chance to be around him on a full-time basis for the first time. Bloom, who started as Boston’s chief baseball officer two months before Cora’s abrupt departure and subsequent season-long suspension, falls into that category.

“He has just a charisma about him where people feel lifted up by being around him, and that’s a great thing when you have somebody like that leading your group,” said Bloom. “He can bring the best out of people. That’s what we’re looking for in a manager. He connects as well as anybody I’ve seen."

Whereas the old relationships are easy for Cora to pick right back up, it is more impressive how quickly he makes a new acquaintance feel at ease.

“Already I’ve been struck by players that are new to camp that we try and have some conversations with for the first time, and he’s gotten to all of them already,” Bloom said on just the fourth day of Spring Training. “He has talked with everybody. He just has a good way over the course of the day of circulating, making sure he touches every player, that he gets to know everybody. He’s fun to be around and brings a lot of energy and optimism to the group.”

The way J.D. Martinez looks at it, Cora has a special gift for putting the players at ease.

“He’s got a lot of energy. Every time he comes, he sees you, messes around with you. He’s fun to have around,” Martinez said. “I told him when he was out there in BP, I was like, ‘Dang, Chief, I miss you back here. I miss you talking crap when I was hitting, when I used to hit BP.’ That kind of camaraderie is what I missed not having Alex around.”

But Cora's personality wouldn’t mean as much without his baseball intelligence, which is another thing his players feed off and respect.

“I’m excited to have him back,” said righty Nathan Eovaldi. “I really missed him. Everybody missed having him around and being in the dugout, and just the baseball mind he has, it’s unbelievable. It seems like he doesn't miss anything, and it’s exciting having him back.”

The only thing Cora didn’t enjoy about Sunday? Watching his team make two errors, as he is a stickler for fundamentals and “clean baseball."

“It’s just a matter of how you play, if you play clean baseball,” Cora said. “And we didn’t today, but besides that, I love this game. I enjoy this game, and I’m glad I’m back.”