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Friday November 24th, 2017 5:08PM

Cora says opportunity to manage Red Sox is a return home

By The Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — Alex Cora didn't expect his first chance to manage in the major leagues to come this soon, but the new Boston Red Sox manager he says he's ready to take on the challenge of leading one of its most storied franchises.

Cora was introduced Monday at Fenway Park as the 47th manager of the Red Sox. A native of Puerto Rico, the 42-year-old becomes the first minority manager of a club that was the last in the majors to field a black player.

"I've always said the last two years, that I'm a capable manager. It was going to come down to somebody to give me that opportunity," he said. "I never thought that I was getting interviewed because I was a minority. I happen to be."

Alex's father, Jose Cora, was the founder of the Little League in his hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico. He died in 1988, but his son still is propped up by the messages he learned from both his parents.

"That's what he preached — school and baseball," Cora said. "My mom, she'll be around during the season ... She'll talk baseball with you guys."

A middle infielder on Boston's 2007 World Series championship team, Cora says he sees the job as a return home to "a perfect situation," inheriting a young team coming off back-to-back AL East titles under manager John Farrell.

Cora played four seasons for the Red Sox, and this year was the bench coach for the World Series champion Houston Astros. The Astros beat the Red Sox this year in the AL Division Series in a matchup of first-place teams.

While Cora wants to focus on baseball, he said he realizes the significance of his hire both on the mainland and in Puerto Rico.

He presented president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox with a Puerto Rican flag to thank them for sending a plane full of supplies to aid in Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

Later, wearing his new Red Sox jersey and cap, he took pictures holding the flag with his daughter, Camila, and stepson, Jeriel.

"I'm proud to be a Puerto Rican," he said. "You're going to see that flag and you're going to see a lot of fans from back home. ... The history I understand and the history throughout the game — there's not too many Latino managers. There's not too many minority managers. But there's 30 capable managers and I'm one of them."

One of the criteria Dombrowski said would be key in finding a successor for Farrell would be someone who could handle the intense spotlight that comes with managing in Boston.

He said Cora embraces it.

"Boston, for a lot of people, is a challenge. But for me, it's not," Cora said. "This is a city where I understand they live baseball 24/7. But, you know what? I come from a country where they live baseball 24/7. In my family, for breakfast we talk baseball. For lunch we talk baseball. And for dinner, too."

In addition to Cora, Boston also interviewed former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and new Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.

But Dombrowski said there was an instant comfort level with Cora. Dombrowski initially said past managerial experience would be important in the hire. But Cora's cumulative experience with the Astros, as well as serving as general manager of Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and as a general manager and manager in the Puerto Rican Winter League satisfied that requirement.

"It may not be the same as the big leagues by any means, but it is an experience of calling the shots during the game," Dombrowski said.

Cora says he won't shy away from using the analytical approach he learned as a bench coach this past season with the Astros. But he stressed that won't be a substitute for cultivating the relationship between the front office and players.

"The most important thing about the whole analytical world and coaches is there has to be a connection," Cora said.

He said building bonds with players will be among his top priorities.

"This year I learned talking to players is not bad, having a relationship with players is not bad," Cora said. "You embrace them. You tell them how good they are, and when you have to twist their arm and tell them it's not good enough, they're going to respond to you."

NOTES: Dombrowski said the team is still working to hire a new pitching coach and will continue to purse filling that position during organization meetings in Boston this week. ... The Red Sox hired Tim Hyers as hitting coach and Andy Barkett as assistant hitting coach on Saturday.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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