Cora family gets its passion from matriarch
For Red Sox manager Alex Cora and his older brother Joey, who is the third-base coach for the Pirates, there is no mystery who they will see a text from when they wake up each morning.
“We have the family group text -- and every day at six in the morning back home [in Puerto Rico], it might be three in the morning on the West Coast or whatever, it’s ‘Good morning’ and we have to make sure we answer whenever we get up,” said Alex Cora. “It’s like, ‘Good morning’ and she blows a kiss [emoji] and then the day goes.”
That author of those texts? Iris Amaro. She is the proud, 81-year-old mother of two baseball sons, plus a daughter, Lydia, who runs a medical lab that has left her particularly busy during COVID-19 and another daughter, Aimee, who is a prominent public-relations official for radio and television outlets in Puerto Rico.
Of the 10 grandkids that Iris has, the ones who are old enough to text are also on the group text.
After the morning pleasantries, baseball often becomes part of the communication at some point in the day.
“She loves the game,” said Joey Cora. “She knows who is good, who is bad and all the intricacies of the game. You can have a really good conversation about the game. She’s not a regular fan -- she’s deeper than that. When you’re involved like Alex and I, the conversations are a little more intense -- and she is into it.”
This is the ultimate baseball family -- and nobody, not even Alex or Joey, has more passion for the game than Iris.
For Mother's Day, Iris will be up for her usual morning walk. But by the time the Red Sox play the Orioles in Baltimore at 1 p.m. ET, and the Pirates start their game at Wrigley Field at 2:20 p.m. ET, Iris will have the television tuned to the proper stations.
“She makes sure she gets her MLB package,” said Alex Cora. “And it’s not to watch all the games. She wants to watch the Pirates and the Red Sox. That's it. She could care less about anybody else.”
Iris glues herself to the nuances of the games her sons are involved in and she roots for the Red Sox and Pirates to go 2-0 every day. However, Joey chuckles about the priority viewing.
“She watches Alex’s game and, I guess, in like ... a little box in a corner [of the screen], she watches our game, too, you know, whenever she can,” Joey said.
However, Alex notes that when he was suspended for the 2020 season and home with his mother in Caguas, she was always watching the Pirates and not the Red Sox.
“For how much she cares about the organization, she didn’t pay attention to Red Sox last year. It was about the Pirates,” Alex said. “She’s just pulling for her kids and she wants us to do well -- and this is what we like to do and we have a passion about it and she backs us. She's always there for us.”
In the late 1980s, Alex was just 13 when his father José Manuel Cora died of colon cancer. Prior to that, José had helped to instill baseball passion in the entire family when he started a Little League chapter in Caguas in 1969. José was the president of that league for years.
“But she was a big part of it,” said Alex. “She had to give the green light for him to spend so much time with [Little League] kids and all that.”
Sensing how important baseball was to Joey and Alex, Iris smartly used it as a tool to make sure the boys were keeping in line with their other responsibilities in life.
“When we were out of line with something else, she took [baseball] away,” said Joey. “She knew what buttons to press at the right time. But she was there for us the whole time. At times, it was tough [for her to get there], obviously. She worked and everything. But she was there every time she needed to be there and could be there. She was always there for us.”
Joey was already in the United States starting his professional career in the Padres organization when José died.
At that point, Alex needed his mother and sisters more than ever -- and they consistently delivered.
“It was actually the women of the house, my two sisters and my mom, just taking me everywhere until I took off for college,” said Alex. “She impacted all of us, my mother did. But for the three of them to take charge [of me], they had to do it. Somebody had to take me to the ballpark, somebody had to teach me what I needed to do to keep going and fulfill my dream, and obviously I had my brother, you know, watching from afar. But for them to be present and do what they did, it was amazing.”
Though losing his father was a crushing blow, Alex Cora has mostly lived a blessed baseball life. He followed in his brother’s footsteps and had a 14-year playing career that included stints with the Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers and Nationals. In 2007, he was part of a World Series-winning Boston team and made close friends for life from that squad in Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia.
In Alex’s one season as bench coach for the Astros, Houston won the World Series. Alex then had another dream come true when the Red Sox hired him to be their manager. Things couldn’t get any better when, with Alex Cora at the helm, the Red Sox set a franchise record with 108 wins in 2018 and ran roughshod in the postseason, going 11-1, to win the World Series.
But the storm clouds came for Alex in January of 2020 and they were heavy. When MLB released the results of an investigation of sign-stealing involving the ’17 Astros, he was implicated in the report as a key contributor to the scheme in which players would use technology to let other players know what pitch was coming.
Alex Cora and the Red Sox talked it over and decided it was best for both sides if they parted ways. That was a few months before MLB would rule Cora wasn’t involved in a more minor sign-stealing investigation involving the 2018 Red Sox. Still, Cora was suspended for the entirety of the '20 baseball season for his actions in Houston.
Alex knew what the reaction would be like from the general public and he could live with whatever came his way. But what meant the most to him is how his mother handled the situation.
“We talked and, obviously, I actually said something about being embarrassed in an interview back home,” said Alex Cora. “And she's like, ‘I'm not embarrassed, we are disappointed. But we still have you, we’re still going to walk with our chin up high, you made a mistake, and you’re paying for it. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid or you’re a bad person. You just made a bad choice. But you will be fine, you know you've done it before and we're always going to back you up, regardless of what happens from now on.’”
That’s called unconditional love -- and Iris proved to Alex how powerful that can be in the summer of 2020.
“She was there for me. She's been there for me the whole time,” said Alex Cora. “I’ve made some good choices throughout my life and bad choices throughout my life, and she’s mom. She's the one that’s gonna discipline me when I [need it] and she’ll give me a hug when I need it, too. I think last year for her was about just making sure I was OK. And I was OK. I knew I was gonna be OK. But from my end, I was like, 'I want them to be OK, I want her to be OK.' ... That was my one of my biggest worries and she was OK.”
It turns out that Iris Amaro is better than OK these days. Alex got a second chance to manage the Red Sox and they are off to a strong start. Joey is still doing his things with the rebuilding Pirates.
By the way, Iris is a big fan of the 2021 Sox.
“She loves the fact that our team is very passionate. We have fun doing it. She knows that,” said Alex Cora. “She likes what she sees, and she told me right way. She’s like, ‘You have a good team. They care. They’re slamming helmets after a bad call or a bad at-bat.’ She's really enjoying this team, not because of the record but just the passion that we show.”
That’s because Iris has that same passion, even if it doesn’t manifest in helmet throwing.
Aside from her daily walks and viewing of the Red Sox and Pirates, Iris is known for her involvement in her church and taking elderly people to medical visits.
“I’m telling you, it’s amazing,” said Alex Cora. “I’m not saying it because she’s my mom. She just keeps going. She looks younger at 81 than she did ... 10 years ago. Her doctor, who lives in my neighborhood, sent me a text the other day and [said] she might live until she’s 200 the way she is right now.”
“She’s a fan of the game and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, we’re her four kids and whatever we do -- Red Sox, Pirates or whatever our sisters are doing -- she wants to make sure we're doing well as human beings,” said Joey Cora.