When I think of Cora, I think of two things: one, his 18-pitch at bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers and, two, my short conversation with him in 2009, when he was playing for the New York Mets. Let’s begin with the latter first.
I was winding my way through the Mets clubhouse at Turner Field in Atlanta back in 2009 and I walked past Cora. He had a laptop open watching video of his at-bats from the night before.
Always curious and fearless, I lingered in the background and watched over his shoulder. Finally, I crept up alongside him, introduced myself and proceeded to rattle off questions about the value of studying video? What he might be focusing on? If he watches video when he is swinging a hot bat? How (or if) the experience impacted his confidence (based on the outcomes of his at-bats)? You know, curious baseball questions.
Cora answered each question with short, direct statements. His eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed with each additional query. If the idea of a “game face” were real, he was wearing it. Cora was all-business and I quickly realized I just walked straight into his office without knocking or having an appointment.
I didn’t blink, but I knew he wasn’t much interested in answering my questions. He was in the lab, studying. Any interruption better be important. My questions were not important; not now, at least. Cora was zeroing in on the enemy and he didn’t some know-nothing journalist disturbing his concentration.
My curiosity with Cora’s approach stemmed from an at-bat five years earlier, in 2004, when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers (see below). In my opinion, it was emblematic of what makes baseball great. Facing Matt Clement, Cora battled, baffled and eventually exhausted the Chicago Cubs pitcher. On the 18th pitch of the at-bat Cora pulled a home run into the right field seats.
For me, the at-bat was memorable, but over time I developed a deep appreciation for what Cora had accomplished. Consider what was required: patience, focus, concentration and the will to win the at-bat.
Although we didn’t discuss the at-bat, and Cora didn’t know this, but it was the inspiration that led me to approach him. I had a deep respect for his professionalism.
Cora’s name appeared on my baseball radar again this weekend. Now the bench coach for the Houston Astros, his name has surfaced as a managerial candidate for jobs in New York, Philadelphia and Detroit.
I read the report from the Houston Chronicle because I wanted to see how the organization would respond to the story. Would Astros manager A.J. Hinch be angered that the rumors would distract the team as they prepare for the post-season? Would the front office endorse Cora?
Hinch responded by publicly endorsing Cora saying:
“It’s no surprise. He’s very talented. His baseball intellect (is) impressive … he will manage. Without a doubt in my mind … when he shows up to the ballpark he’s ready to go and prepared, and I have the utmost trust that he’s going to have his attention here.”
With three managerial jobs open (and possibly more after Sunday), the only surprise would be if Cora was managing a major league team next season.