At one point during a long, emotional day, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy turned to his manager, Alex Cora, and said, "You were right about how we would be received."Cora had told Kennedy that Puerto Ricans needed the 10 tons of supplies the Red Sox and JetBlue delivered to the
At one point during a long, emotional day, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy turned to his manager, Alex Cora, and said, "You were right about how we would be received."
Cora had told Kennedy that Puerto Ricans needed the 10 tons of supplies the Red Sox and JetBlue delivered to the hurricane-ravaged island on Tuesday.
All of it -- the medicine, food, diapers, batteries, money, toys, building supplies, all of it -- was desperately needed. Every little bit will push things a bit more toward normalcy. But beyond all that, beyond things that can be weighed and measured, was something else.
"Love," Cora said by telephone from Puerto Rico on Tuesday night. "You can't believe how much that helps. When someone you don't know comes up and offers you something you need, that touches you. You know it's from the heart."
Kennedy led a traveling party of around 65 that included Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello. Upon landing in San Juan, the group was met by Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez and pitcher Chris Sale. The group then traveled to Cora's hometown, Caguas, to deliver food, water and other essentials to around 300 families.
This is a day Cora had been looking forward to since last November, when the Red Sox hired him to manage. During contract negotiations, he asked if the team would consider sending a planeload of supplies to his homeland, much as the Astros, Pirates and other teams did after Hurricane Maria churned through Puerto Rico in September.
"I know there are a lot of special dates coming up we're going to be part of -- Opening Day, Spring Training -- but this is one that's really special to me," Cora said. "When I asked the Red Sox about doing this, I knew what the answer would be. They're special people, and it was such a great day. My family was there, my mother, my sisters, and it was so cool to see all these people from my hometown, to see how thankful they were."
Cora thought he could never be prouder of his homeland than he was last spring, when he saw the way Puerto Ricans turned out to cheer the World Baseball Classic team he assembled as general manager.
"Everywhere we played -- Mexico, San Diego, Los Angeles -- Puerto Ricans turned out," he said. "Back here, things just kind of stopped when we played. Our whole country was into it."
And then, on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria ripped through the country. In the time since, Cora has talked proudly of the dozens of Puerto Rican Major Leaguers -- Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Eddie Rosario -- who have given of their time and money.
"We're proud of where we're from," Cora said. "We also know the job is not done. Things still aren't great, but slowly but surely, it's getting better."
Hurricane Maria interrupted what should have been one of the best baseball years of Cora's life. He was the bench coach for Astros manager A.J. Hinch, simultaneously being part of a team that won the World Series while also filling in the final line of his resume.
But in those final weeks, Cora's heart was torn as he followed the monumental recovery work in Puerto Rico while riding the Astros' magical wave and preparing himself for whatever managerial opportunities came along.
"When the Pirates came here, Joey [Cora, Alex's brother and a former Major Leaguer] called before he went back home and said, 'Be ready. It's not even close to what it was before,'" Cora said.
Cora's daughter, Camilla, offered a blunt assessment as well.
"It looks like a ball of fire went through the island," she told him. "It's just brown now."
"I've lived here 42 years," Cora said, "and I've driven along roads and seen houses I didn't know were there because the vegetation is gone. Something simple like that really hits you. But it's reality. It's what we have, and we have to keep working."
And the biggest needs for those interested in helping?
"It changes every week," Cora said. "In the beginning, it was food and water. Then it was building supplies. Then medicine. Now I think security is important. People are getting desperate.
"I don't like getting into the political stuff, but we just have to work together. I think we're going to use the money we got today [$200,000] on generators. Fifty percent of the island is still without power."
Cora will leave for Spring Training in a few days with mixed emotions, thrilled about his first managing gig but acutely aware of the challenges his homeland still faces.
"Sure, it's going to be hard to leave," he said. "Where we're at, we're OK. But the island isn't even halfway to where we want to be. In a few months, it's hurricane season again, and you never know. "Hopefully, Maria was a one-of-a-kind storm. Hopefully, we don't have something like that again."
Cora chooses to focus on the positive as much as possible. And so, Tuesday was a really good day.
"Great day," he said. "Humbled to be part of it."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.