Puerto Rican fans backing Álex Cora, their Nuestro Pitirre
By Tab Bamford
The town of Caguas in Puerto Rico is located 20 minutes south of San Juan where the central mountain range starts. It’s a proud city that loves baseball, and they have been proud to call a few of their sons major leaguers.
Francisco Lindor is the latest superstar from Caguas to make a name for himself on the diamond, but for the next week the city is all aboard the Boston bandwagon supporting their favorite hometown star: Red Sox manager Álex Cora.
The Calderóns family has ties to Caguas, too.
Last summer, La Vida Baseball met three generations of the Calderón family in Cooperstown, N.Y. They made the trek from Texas and Puerto Rico to upstate New York to celebrate the induction of one of their countrymen, Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Jorge Calderón, Jr. represents the middle of those three generations. His father, who still lives in Puerto Rico and whose business is in Caguas, raised him to be a baseball fan, and his brother lives in Caguas today. In turn, Jorge raised his sons to be fans as well. But their allegiance does not rest with the logo on the front of a big league jersey.
“We’re Puerto Ricans first,” Calderón told La Vida Baseball before Game 1 of the World Series. “That’s the bottom line. We always root for Puerto Ricans. When Cleveland had the Alomars, we followed the Indians. And we rooted for Robbie [Alomar] in Toronto, too. Over the last 25 years we’ve followed the stars from Puerto Rico closely.”
This year’s World Series presented a unique predicament for the Calderón family. Jorge lives in Texas, and considers himself a Rangers fan—he’s lived in the Dallas area for 25 years. His father was “all-in with the Astros” after Houston won the World Series last year, largely due to the influence of Cora and Carlos Correa.
When Houston squared off with Boston in the American League Championship Series, however, Calderón said the decision about who to root for was easy for his family. While two of the three generations live in Texas and all three have openly cheered for the Astros over the past couple seasons, this time they were backing the Red Sox.
“[My father] wanted Boston to win,” he said. “Because the historical achievement for Cora was more important to him as a Puerto Rican, and, frankly, more important to baseball, than an Astros repeat.”
“We’ve been known for having great offensive players or great defensive players and a few good pitchers over the last 30 years, but to have someone lead and manage a team of players is a first for a Puerto Rican,” he continued. “It shows that not only can we lead the sport, but we can put on the thinking cap and manage a team that plays the sport at the highest level.”
Watching the World Series
During the World Series the Calderón family will be in three different places. Jorge was on the road for business when we spoke before Game 1 of the World Series while his son watched from Texas and his father was at home in Puerto Rico.
So how will the family support Cora in his first World Series as a manager?
Together – the way they always have.
“Every year during the playoffs, I call my dad and ask him if he saw a big play or he’ll call me,” he said. “We get on the phone to celebrate the players or big moments and victories. And my kids text me because that’s how they do things.”
Puerto Rico first
The Calderóns are proud of the rich history of players to come from Puerto Rico, from Roberto Clemente to the present day with Lindor, Correa and Javier Báez among the exciting young superstars in the major leagues.
But there’s more to be proud of than just the players on the field.
Calderón believes there’s a unique connection between people from Caguas and Cora because of his work in the wake of Hurricane Maria both when he was with the Astros and after joining the Red Sox earlier this year. Cora still lives in Caguas in the offseason, too, and his efforts continue to make a huge difference as the city rebuilds.
While Cora is the first Puerto Rican manager to lead a team to the World Series, there has been a coaching boom from the island in recent years. At the beginning of the 2018 regular season, a record 16 Puerto Ricans were coaching in the big leagues.
Calderón says star players and coaches are the pride of Puerto Rico.
“These are our giants,” Calderón said. “We are a small island, from a geographic perspective. It’s only 100 miles by 35. While the mainland calls baseball the ‘national pastime,’ people on the island with very little resources were playing over the last 100 years with a broomstick and Coke bottles. It’s a game we’ve been playing and watching for a long time. And to have the Clementes and Alomars and Rodríguez achieve the pinnacle of the sport–getting into the Hall of Fame–is of great significance for every Puerto Rican whether it’s my father’s generation or my son’s.”
While the Calderóns put Puerto Rican players first during the game, the patriarch of the family instilled in them a love of the game that lasts far longer than nine innings. As Jorge Calderón, Jr. pointed out, he feels a personal connection to the journey players from the island take to make it to the majors.
“We’re just fans of the game and the players and the stories behind it,” he said. “Whether they get to the Hall of Fame or not. It’s hard to be a player at that level. The journey that takes you there, whether you’re an All-Star or a guy who just makes the roster, we admire the journey and celebrate it and love the game.”