BOSTON — There are few things in life Alex Cora loves as much as baseball and Puerto Rico.
So when given the chance to run his home country’s team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Cora didn’t take his general manager responsibilities lightly.
Though Rockies superstar Nolan Arenado is Californian, Cora knew how good the perennial MVP candidate was. He also knew of his heritage, and did everything in his power to sway Arenado to join Team Puerto Rico.
“I tried to recruit him for the WBC,” Cora said. “His dad is Cuban. His mom is Puerto Rican, so I tried. I think Team USA and MLB did a better job of recruiting. Talking to him throughout the process, very polite, very good kid. He kind of like apologized when he said no to us. Kind of like, you don’t have to do that. You play for whoever you want.”
According to Arenado, Cora pulled out all the stops. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to bring him to Puerto Rico, either.
“It was really good recruiting,” Arenado recalled. “It was a really tough phone call to let him know I was going to go with USA but that’s where my heart was, my heart was with USA. But he’s always been really cool with me, great with me, ever since I think it was the end of High A, because you know he wanted me to go play in the Puerto Rican League.”
The crux of Cora’s pitch was simple: On Team Puerto Rico, Arenado would have a chance to play alongside other young stars in his loaded infield.
“It was going to be Francisco (Lindor) at second, Carlos (Correa) at short, Nolan at third with Javy (Baez) playing the outfield,” Cora explained. “I think at the end it worked out for both teams. He played for team USA, did well. But it was like, ‘You’re going to be playing with Carlos, Francisco and Javier in this tournament.’ I think we were close. Then he decided.
“It’s tough in his situation, Nolan, he doesn’t speak the (Spanish) language,” Cora added. “So to spend two or three weeks with a group of guys that are mainly going to talk a different language, it was probably going to be tough for him. He was honest. He kept me till the end, which was cool. It was one where I really wanted him to play for us.”
And of course, you know the two teams had to meet head-on in the championship game.
Arenado’s decision was validated; the third baseman went 2 for 5 and scored a pair of runs as Team USA knocked off Cora’s club to win the tournament, 8-0.
“It was amazing,” Arenado said. “It was awesome beating them, it was great. I know I made the right decision. I have no regrets about it, then also winning the championship kind of put the stamp on it, too.”
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Daily News and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason.