El Profe: Why this Álex Cora “first” matters to Puerto Ricans

Álex Cora has managed to do what no other Puerto Rican has done before, manage a major league team to the World Series.

Is that a big deal?

Yes it is.

This is not a story about the Boston Red Sox or the team’s fans who have become accustomed to the postseason, winning three World Series titles since 2004.

This is about an island and a people.

What Cora has accomplished is a huge deal for the 3.3 million Puerto Ricans on the island and the more than five million Puerto Ricans across the United States.

Rooting Interests

Part of our baseball fandom as Latinos is similar to all other fans. We root for specific teams, whether it is the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Doyers, Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros.

Another just as powerful rooting interest drives our passion for baseball, however.

Countless Latinos also root for players who come from our homelands, whether that is Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela or México.

It has been this way for a long time. Latinos want players from the country that we, our parents or abuelos came from to have an impact in baseball.

That is why our national team and its players are given nicknames like los nuestros.

This is also a big reason why Cora’s success as a Red Sox manager matters not just for Boston but also for baseball hopes and dreams of Puerto Ricans everywhere.

A New First

Firsts are often celebrated in baseball, even to the point that some grow tired of hearing about them.

Celebrating firsts are seen by some as a thing of the past, accomplishments that date to the start of racial integration. For them, what is happening in baseball today is not the same kind of accomplishments as those that followed Jackie Robinson’s arrival into the major leagues.

Puerto Ricans have waited a long time for this historic moment, even before the days of Jackie Robinson.

The excitement and pride Puerto Ricans are expressing in watching Cora lead the Red Sox into the World Series is similar to when Hiram Bithorn made his major league debut in 1942, observed baseball historian Jorge Colón Delgado.

Puerto Ricans swelled with pride once more in 1949 when Luis Rodríguez Olmo hit the first home run by a Latino in the World Series while with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Five years later the New York Giants and another Puerto Rican succeeded where the Dodgers and Olmo failed, winning a World Series title.

Puerto Ricans cheered when Rúben Gómez pitched the Giants to a Game 3 victory during New York’s four-game sweep of the favored Cleveland Indians to claim the 1954 World Series trophy.

The success of these pioneros and stars like Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Juan “Terin” Pizarro helped generations of young Puerto Ricans dream of one day also playing in the big leagues, delivering a key hit or an ace pitching performance in a big game.

Managing Expectations

Cora’s first makes possible for Puerto Ricans to dream of succeeding as not just players but also in managerial roles.

Much significance is placed on Cora managing Boston to the World Series because the Caguas native is making the most of the opportunity that other Puerto Ricans did not get.

He is maximizing on the kind of chance José Oquendo was not granted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. The Cardinals opted to hand a World Series championship team to an inexperienced Mike Matheny, someone who hadn’t coached or managed a single game at any professional level, over Oquendo’s years of coaching, managing and playing in the Cardinals organization.

It is the managerial position that Sandy Alomar Jr. hasn’t yet received, leaving many to wonder if he is being “Oquendo-ed.”

Looking further back, even the Great One had aspirations of becoming a major league manager. Clemente had even begun acquiring experience in the Puerto Rican winter league, managing the Senadores de San Juan during the 1970-71 season.

But whether any major league team would have seriously consider Clemente must be placed in historical context.

We should not forget Jackie Robinson himself was not granted the opportunity to be a manager at any level of organized baseball.

Indeed, the very man celebrated as the most worthy of integrating baseball on the field found no major league owner willing to hire him as a manager after he retired as a player in 1959.

In fact Robinson would not live to see the day that an African American was hired to manage in the majors. He died in October 1972. Another two seasons passed before Frank Robinson was named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975, becoming the first African American manager in baseball.

Puerto Ricans waited even longer to see the first Puerto Rican manager. That didn’t occur until June 2010 when the Florida Marlins hired Edwin Rodríguez as interim manager.

A People and an Island

For Puerto Ricans, especially those who weren’t alive or old enough to see the Great One play, this is our Clemente moment in terms of its significance.

Clemente did things on the baseball diamond that distinguished him from the rest. When the baseball world was watching, he was at his best. He hit in all 14 World Series games he played.

Clemente’s significance went beyond his stellar performance.

The manner he remained humble and proud, his Puerto Rican way of being, made Puerto Ricans everywhere proud.

The same type of bearing is what I see in Cora. It makes him more than the Red Sox manager. It makes Cora the living embodiment of Puerto Rican baseball dreams and aspirations.

So, even though I stammer every time I try to say it out loud as a Yankees fan, I want Boston to win the World Series this year.

While some may label that being a “fan de carton,” for me it is all about being a Boricua fan de corazon.

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