FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was the biggest of spring training, at least as far as Red Sox manager Alex Cora was concerned.
Cora finally saw his brother Joey, Pittsburgh’s third base coach, in person for the first time since Jan. 7, 2020 when they were both in Puerto Rico for their mother’s birthday.
Cora’s career was shattered six days later when Major League Baseball released the findings of its investigation into the 2017 Houston Astros and named him as one of the ringleaders of a sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport.
Cora was out as manager of the Red Sox the next day and eventually suspended for the 2020 season.
Joey stuck by his brother, one of the few who did at the time.
“That’s part of being a big brother. It wasn’t tough love he needed. It was just love,” Joey said.
Joey, now in his fifth season with the Pirates, makes his home in Pittsburgh with his family. The brothers usually get together a few times during the offseason, but the pandemic prevented that.
That their reunion came at a ballpark was fitting given their shared passion for baseball. They met up on the field a few hours before first pitch.
“It was good to see him. This thing was hard on the whole family,” Joey said. “Sure, it was hard. We know the character of Alex. The whole family hoped that he’d get another chance and could redeem himself if you want to call it that.
“I don’t see it being redeemed. He was a good kid who made a mistake.”
Now that fans are being allowed back into games, Alex is worried that his sins will be visited on his brother by hecklers.
Joey laughed that off because they’ve been through so much worse. He’s 10½ years older than Alex and has been looking out for him since their father, Jose Manuel, died of cancer.
Alex was 13 at the time and Joey had to became more than a big brother. Joey has always been the more serious of the two and built his own coaching career because of his determination and willingness to speak hard truths.
“He’s everything for me. He’s my brother; he’s my best friend; he’s my dad,” Alex said.
It wasn’t something they got into at any length. But Alex knows Joey doesn’t abide what he did.
“But one thing for sure: He was there. He was there the whole time throughout the process,” Alex said. “Just talking to me, checking on me. He was very important. Joey has been amazing for all of us.”
Joey Cora didn’t pause when asked if his brother was in the wrong.
“No doubt. Yes, it was a mistake. I’m not saying that it was wasn’t,” he said. “But I think it was a harsh punishment that he got, very harsh. It was really hard on him.”
When the Red Sox were considering whether to bring Alex back, Joey was a sounding board.
“Here I am,” Alex said. “I’m here because of people like him, obviously the family, the people who stuck with me throughout the process.
“My family, I put them in a bad spot. But at the same time I’m still the little kid from the family. I’m the youngest one. There’s a lot of love and a lot of teaching throughout the process and they’re still teaching me stuff and I’m still learning.”
There will be some rough days ahead. The small crowds at spring training have left Cora alone for the most part. But it won’t be like that during the season, especially in New York and probably at Fenway Park on more than a few days, too.
There’s already one book out on the Astros scandal and another in the works, and Cora will have to answer questions about any revelations that emerge.
“It’s not going to go away and I’m ready for it,” he said. “This is part of the process. I’m not one that hides from making mistakes or admitting mistakes. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been saying all along this is something that’s going to follow me the rest of my career.”
Cora just has to wear it, as they say in baseball. If nothing else, he hopes somebody else will learn from his mistakes.
“I am who I am. That’s what I’m most proud of, that I haven’t changed. Hopefully,” he said. “Hopefully when people saw me winning in ’18 they didn’t say, ‘This freaking guy. What a punk.’
“I’m still the same guy, man . . . I just made a mistake.”
Cora led the Red Sox to a championship and was bounced out of baseball less than 15 months later. The team that stayed him through it all was his family.
“They’re my real team,” Cora said.