A big step in Cora's tenure as rookie GM
Former player to lead Puerto Rican squad in Caribbean Series
Alex Cora is finally ready to answer the question.
For much of his playing career, especially during his final few seasons, the former infielder was often asked about his plans once his days between the lines were over.
Cora had built a reputation as an intelligent player. He was known as a leader with a strong knowledge of the game and a knack for communicating with his peers in the clubhouse. The consensus among his former managers and teammates was that Cora would be a coach one day. Some thought he could be a manager or perhaps move into the front office of a big league club.
Maybe Cora would follow in the footsteps of Joey Cora, his older brother, and serve as a bench coach.
Not surprisingly, Alex Cora usually downplayed the subject, answering reporters' queries with some version of, "Let's just focus on the game today."
Cora, who retired last year after 14 seasons with the Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers and Nationals, is now letting his actions speak for him.
On Friday, the first-year general manager of Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos will lead his club to the 2013 Caribbean Series in search of the island's first title in more than a decade. As a player, Cora was a part of several Puerto Rican Winter League championship teams. He won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007, and he played for Puerto Rico in two World Baseball Classics. But Cora has never been a part of a Caribbean Series championship despite playing in the tournament five times, and he wants to change that fact.
"We expect to win, and our ultimate goal is to win," Cora said. "We have a good baseball team, and we are taking the core group of the championship team with us. Of the 28 guys we are taking, 24 have been with us all year, and that's very important."
The annual round-robin tournament, featuring the Winter League champions from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, starts Friday with the first of six consecutive days of doubleheaders at Estadio Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico.
This year's field consists of the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido, Mexico's Yaquis de Obregon, Cora's Criollos and the winner of the Navegantes del Magallanes and Cardenales de Lara league championship series in Venezuela.
"It's passionate baseball, from the players to the fans to the host city," Cora said. "It's a cultural event. It's really hard to compare it to something in the States, but it's close to something like the Dodgers and Giants when you play in Los Angeles, because of the cultural part of it."
The Caribbean Series can be traced back to the union of the leagues in Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela -- and the formation of the Caribbean Federation in 1948. After Cuba in 1949, Puerto Rico hosted the Caribbean Series in '50, followed by Venezuela in '51 and Panama in '52.
The initial design was 12 games, with each team squaring off against one another twice. From 1949-60, Cuba won the title seven times. Puerto Rico won four times and Panama won its first and only Caribbean Series title in 1950.
In 1959, Fidel Castro took over in Cuba and declared it a Communist nation, ending its participation in the event after 1960. The Caribbean Series disappeared for a decade until a revival in 1970 that saw the addition of the Dominican Republic and Mexico and the disappearance of Panama.
There have been discussions about adding Nicaragua and Colombia and reinstating Panama to the Caribbean Confederation, but the leagues do not meet the organization's standards, and those talks have been tabled. A delegation from the Caribbean Confederation met with Cuba last year, and there's a possibility the country could participate in the 2014 version in Venezuela.
The Dominican Republic has been the favorite at Caribbean Series in recent history, and it's easy to see why.
Including Caribbean Series titles by Escogido in 2010 and 2012, a team from the Dominican Republic has won the Caribbean Series title 19 times since 1970, the most among teams currently competing in the tournament. Moreover, the Dominican Republic has won the title 13 times since 1990.
Overall, a team from Mexico has won the Caribbean Series six times since it began participating in the tournament in 1970, including the 2011 title won by Obregon. A team from Venezuela has won the Caribbean Series seven times, with the last two titles coming in 2006 and '09.
Puerto Rico has 14 titles but has not won since Santurce won the championship in 2000. Caguas last won the Caribbean Series in 1987.
"I think we are in a stage baseball-wise where we are gaining momentum, and a title would add to that," Cora said. "Think about it. Carlos [Correa] was drafted No. 1. [Angel] Pagan, Yadi [Molina] and Carlos [Beltran] had great seasons. We are up to six teams in the Winter League, and we have World Baseball Classic coming up. It's a good time for baseball."
It's also a good time to be a general manager for Caguas.
"I'm hands on as a GM, but I'm a big believer in letting athletes go out there and play," Cora said. "I also want to make sure the guys are comfortable in the clubhouse, and I always think about the things I would want in there. We are also fortunate to have a great owner who really cares."
Cora, who played for Caguas each winter during his big league career, took over when the previous general manager resigned to take a job in the league office. The former player acknowledged that he is still learning on the job, and that's part of the fun.
"It's a challenge because I've never had an experience like this, but it's exciting," Cora said. "Hey, you can play fantasy football, but that does not make you an NFL GM, but I think the owner knew I had a pulse on what we needed. I've also had some help in selecting the players."
Cora's next challenge will come Friday night against Mexico. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic square off in the matinee.
"I like what I'm doing right now, and we'll see about the future," Cora said. "I had a few phone calls to jump in to play with a few teams, but I'm not ready for that. I just stopped playing a year ago, and I want to spend time with my daughter, and I feel like I owe that to her that with all the sacrifices she made without me around. I have aspirations, but right now I'm good. I'm concentrating on the Caribbean Series."