As White House visit looms, Red Sox keep focus on field
CHICAGO — The scene was a familiar one in the Red Sox’ clubhouse before Sunday’s ballgame, a game that a few hours later would be confirmed as their third straight victory, their sixth in seven games, and pull them within one game of .500 for the first time since they were 0-1.
Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Eduardo Nunez sat at the circular table nearest the entrance. Benintendi worked intently on the USA Today crossword puzzle, occasionally glancing up to smile at the exaggerated bickering, often in Spanish and almost always ending in laughter, among his card-playing teammates.
Near the middle of the room, behind a table stocked with Dubble Bubble gum and other ballplayer necessities, Eduardo Rodriguez and Ryan Brasier sat side by side in cushioned chairs, periodically showing each other something on their phones. When Rodriguez left, Hector Velazquez took his seat, fist-bumping Brasier.
A few minutes before the media were shooed out at 12:30 p.m., J.D. Martinez strolled though, patting a couple of teammates on the back, including rookie sensation Michael Chavis, then stopping at his corner locker (the coveted spot) to watch the MLB Network highlights package on the clubhouse television.
In their private moments — or as private as they can be with a dozen or so reporters milling about — the Red Sox, with their roster diverse both in talent and personal background, look like a unified and cohesive team. For the first extended time since — well, when, last October? — they are playing like one.
The news that broke in the middle innings Sunday is not going to change that.
The newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported that the Red Sox manager Alex Cora will not attend Thursday’s ceremony at the White House celebrating the 2018 World Championship. Cora, who said in November that he would attend but acknowledged he was reconsidering in January after discussing it with his family, told the newspaper that will not go because his native Puerto Rico has been treated poorly by President Donald Trump’s administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“Puerto Rico is very important to me. During the winter I spent a lot of time at home visiting family and friends. Unfortunately, we are still struggling,” Cora told the newspaper.
“Some are absent from basic needs, others without electricity, and many houses and schools are still in poor condition. . . . Therefore, at this moment, I do not feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”
Cora confirmed the report and elaborated further after the Red Sox’ 9-2 win.
“It’s tough to go celebrate with where we’re at,” he said. “I had conversations with loved ones, the people I really care about and are closest to me, we would talk about it, and decided it was the best way to go.”
Cora is the first coach or manager of a championship team to choose not to go to the White House when some of the team is going. Because the state of politics in the country is so divisive and contentious and the Trump administration’s treatment of minorities has been disgraceful, Cora’s decision is news, though it might have been bigger and certainly more surprising news had he decided to go. But it’s not going to have any effect on the Red Sox. To them, it wasn’t even news. Cora acknowledged he told them a couple of days ago.
The trip is optional for Red Sox players, coaches, and staff members. It is noteworthy that 11 Red Sox players have said they will not attend or were undecided. (Red Sox spokesman Kevin Gregg said after the game that the situation is still fluid for some players.) The list of players who won’t go include reigning American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts, David Price, and Xander Bogaerts.
Many of the Red Sox’ white players do plan to attend, including reliever Heath Hembree, who was caught crudely acknowledging that he was a Trump fan by a TMZ camera last October. But his status — as well as that of Betts, Bogaerts, Price, and others skipping the visit — has been known for weeks, and to no negative effect in the clubhouse.
“It’s a personal choice, and everyone respects that,’’ said Bogaerts on Sunday. “It has no effect in here, or out there on the field.”
“It’s something we’re proud of as a team,’’ said first baseman Mitch Moreland, who is going. “We respect each other in here and the individual right to make a choice. Maybe everyone else should be taking their cues from baseball.”
The 2019 Sox are finally starting to resemble the team that will be celebrated Thursday. They’ve won six of seven games — their best seven-game stretch of the season. Since starting 2-8, they are 15-10.
The clubhouse scene after the game wasn’t much different than before. Chris Sale hugged the clubhouse workers who were familiar from his days with the White Sox, then sat down at a table to eat a postgame meal with Hembree, Devers, and Vazquez. Betts talked NBA playoffs in a group with Nunez, Moreland, and Sandy Leon. General manager Dave Dombrowski strolled through and patted Bogaerts, who hit a game-breaking grand slam, on the back, offering a hearty, “Good job.”
The Red Sox have players from six countries on their 25-man roster. With the season at last pointed the right way, they look just about as unified as a team can be, one with a common goal, even if their destinations won’t all be the same come Thursday.