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Saturday, March 2, 2024

“More in life than baseball”

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Alex Cora doesn’t want to be the focal point of the 2024 Red Sox, but with his contract up after this season, he knows the spotlight and speculation are inevitable.

That doesn’t mean he’s not going to keep trying to shut it down.

“I don’t want this season to be about me,” he stated in his first Spring Training media scrum on Tuesday.

“I’m glad that I’m here,” the Sox skipper said emphatically. “This organization gave me a chance to be a big-league manager in the fall of 2017, and then you know, which is more surprisingly, and I take it to my heart, after the suspension, they gave me a chance to come back right after that, and I appreciate that.”

After his involvement in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, mutually agreeing to part ways with the Red Sox in January 2019, and subsequent one-year suspension, Cora thought he’d have a much longer road back to the manager’s office.

“I never thought I was gonna be back managing as soon as I did, after the mistake that I made, and for that, we appreciate that,” he said. “This is family for us. We love it in Boston, but at the same time, we understand as a family, how it works. It’s a business.”

After what he described as “one of the best offseasons that I’ve had in a while,” Cora looks, sounds, and says that he’s coming into spring training feeling rejuvenated.

“Reset, recharge, reenergize, and attack the season the right way,” the Sox skipper explained. He also revealed just how difficult the previous season was for him, and the way it made him reevaluate his priorities.

“Last year was a tough one for me, I gotta be honest,” he admitted. “The season took a toll on me mentally, physically, it was tough. It was tough.”

“When you spend more than five or six years in one place, it can take a toll on you, and I think got hit last year with that,” he continued. “I’m glad that I recognize that.”

As the 2023 Red Sox fell apart in late August and rapidly circled the drain towards a 78-84, last-place finish, their manager embarked on a personal journey of self-improvement. Ahead of his induction into the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame, he began a new health and fitness regimen last September.

“When I looked at myself in September, I was like, bro you better get going, because there’s gonna be a lot of pictures of you at this ceremony!” Cora said. “So, I started this program, started eating healthier, whatever, and then from there, it took off.”

Before speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, he ran four miles. He credits his family with helping him see it through, starting with some tough love from his mother.

“A conversation with my mom, who actually was very honest when I got back home, she crushed me,” he said. “And the last conversation we had before I got on the plane (to leave), she said, ‘You look great.”

His longtime partner, Angelica, and brother-in-law are running the marathon this year, so workouts became a family thing. “They started training, and I started being like, that support guy,” he explained. “I was supporting them, but it became very competitive. You know, like, she was actually kicking my ass while we were running, so I decided, okay, you’re gonna take it back to that level, I’m going to take it to that level.

“All joking aside, whatever, I felt awful physically last year. I felt awful health-wise in a sense, energy-wise. It was, it was bad. It was bad, and I cannot let a game dictate who I am as a person, or what happens.”

It’s likely that Cora, entering his sixth and potentially final season as Sox skipper, doesn’t want to reveal his hand. He may be ready to leave Boston behind, especially if the team sputters to another disappointing finish next fall. And he knows that ultimately, the decision isn’t up to him.

But whether he remains in Boston or not, Cora has imposed his own expiration date for his managerial career. “I’m not gonna manage 10 more years, I tell you that. I don’t see myself being like Tito or Tony,” he said  of Terry Francona and Tony La Russa, who managed 23 and 35 years, respectively.”

“I envision myself doing other stuff in the game, with the family, back home in Puerto Rico,” he mused.

“You know, I got two boys, I got a daughter that, she’s a junior in college,” Cora added. “There’s more, more, more in life than baseball.”

For now, though, there’s still baseball.

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