The call last month from Red Sox manager Alex Cora caught Jack López by surprise.
At the time, López was locked in with the Worcester Red Sox, in the middle of a scorching June stretch in which he hit .409 with five doubles and 12 RBIs. But Cora wanted to see if the second baseman would be open to having his summer plans shaken up.
USA Baseball was finalizing its roster. The Red Sox were already sending Double A prospect Triston Casas. Jarren Duran, the franchise’s prized prospect, was in line to go as well, but the logistics of the outfielder possibly being called up forced the Olympic team to leave him off the roster.
Cora got to the point quickly.
“Hey,” he said. “They called me. A spot’s available.”
Initially, López didn’t know how to answer, but he knew he could talk to Cora. Their relationship started when López was being recruited by the University of Miami, Cora’s alma mater.
López asked, “What should I do?”
The thought of playing in the Olympics had never crossed Lopez’s mind. He was born in 1992, the year baseball was first recognized as an Olympic sport. He grew up in Rio Piedras, one of Puerto Rico’s oldest neighborhoods, where a monument to Roberto Clemente still sits in the backyard of the home where he once lived.
Puerto Rico’s national baseball team had qualified for the Olympics in 1992 but never returned to the Summer Games after that.
López had represented his country for three years in the Caribbean Series (2018-21). He had gotten a taste of the international game in 2019 when he played exhibition games in Japan and South Korea, then played in the WBSC Premier12 tournament in Taiwan. The experience stuck with him. “Every country I’ve gone to, everybody’s different,” he said. “It’s a worldwide sport.”
So did the work it took to play at that level.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “I love being able to travel the world playing baseball. USA, Puerto Rico, Japan, Taiwan. I’ve been blessed, I’ve been healthy, and I thank God.”
Still, as he was making his decision, loyalty had a hold on him.
“With Puerto Rico, I didn’t know how it would work,” he said. “It was a little nerve-racking. I didn’t want it to be like I’m turning my back.”
As much as López would have wanted to play for his homeland, Puerto Rico didn’t qualify for the Summer Games. The Puerto Rico Baseball Federation granted him a transfer of sports citizenship but also made it clear that he wouldn’t be able to represent the country going forward.
“I gave him the go-ahead,” Jose Quiles, president of the federation, told San Juan newspaper El Vocero. “The first step was taken by USA Baseball, which called the International [World Baseball Softball Confederation] saying that it was interested in Jack López.
“The International called me and asked me if I have any objection to Jack López participating for the United States in the Olympics, and I told them, ‘I have no problem, but let him do it in writing, because we are not the ones to restrict his right as an athlete to achieve his dream of going to the Olympics.’ ”
Cora, a proud Puerto Rican, played for the national team in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009 and was also the team’s general manager from 2016 to 2017. He understood.
“I’ve known him since even before I signed, we had a conversation about it,” López said. “And Puerto Rico tried. We tried to win and we didn’t. I’ve known Alex for a while. Just to be able to have that support is great. He’s actually one of the ones that convinced me to go.”
What sealed the decision for López, though was an undeniable point made by his wife. The couple has two children, a 3-year-old girl and a 7-month-old boy.
“She put it to me this way,” López said. “Not too many kids can say their dad is an Olympian.”
He thought about an opportunity he had never imagined for himself, then thought about the reality he was laying out for his children. Ultimately, that made the decision an easy one.
“I try to stay humble,” López said. “I’m blessed. I’m blessed to say I am going.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.