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As Cora left Cardinals camp, Matheny tried to lure him into coaching

As Cora left Cardinals camp, Matheny tried to lure him into coaching

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FORT MYERS, Fla. • It's a conversation Cardinals manager Mike Matheny isn't likely to forget because it was one of the first times he had to tell a big-leaguer, even a peer, that there wasn't a spot for him on the club.

That didn't mean there wasn't a spot for Alex Cora in the dugout.

"Absolutely, had that conversation at the time," Matheny said. "I don't know if this is the road that he's the getting ready to go down -- which everyone around here sees you somehow staying in this game -- but if that's something you're interested in doing, then give us a chance to talk to you about that."

Despite the Cardinals interest in keeping him around as a coach, Cora decided to go elsewhere, but eventually found his way on the road Matheny discussed. First, Cora was a bench coach with Houston and a general manager of Puerto Rico's team at the recent World Baseball Classic. Buoyed by success in those positions and his long-know reputation in the game, Cora was hired this past offseason as Boston's manager.

"Wasn't surprised when he got this call," Matheny said.

The two shared a clubhouse in 2012 when Matheny was a rookie manager for the Cardinals and Cora was a late-addition veteran for the Cardinals. Cora, now 42, had signed a minor-league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training. By the end of March, after 24 at-bats, it became clear he was not going to make the team.

Matheny had cut players from camp by that point, but not a veteran and not a player who "wasn't headed to Triple-A to figure something out, to improve on what we needed."

Cora did not return to the majors, not after 2011.

He spent some time in the broadcast booth and some time as a coach, and in November 2016 was hired by Jeff Luhnow and the Astros to be the bench coach for A.J. Hinch. That came at a time when the Astros were counting on the emergence of Carlos Correa, their star shortstop and a Puerto Rican standout who played on Cora's national team, and believing they were about to ascend as a championship contender. In 2017, in Cora's last game with the Astros, they won the World Series.

"He's got the experience and the smarts," said former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who is now an executive with Boston. "The smarts -- and the guts."

Matheny described Tuesday, as his team prepped to play Cora's Sox at JetBlue Park, how aware Cora had always been about the vibe of the clubhouse, the feel of a game. What also stood out was what's become a thoroughly modern need for a manager -- communication skills.

Players gravitate toward Cora. Always have.

He's more approachable than imperial, and managers need that.

Cora and Matheny kept in touch in the years after the former's brief spring stint with the Cardinals. They would text every so often, and on Tuesday they chatted. Cora let Matheny know about the plan he had for Friday's game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Tate Matheny, the manager's oldest son, will start for the Red Sox and bat leadoff.

When Matheny went to the plate with the lineup Tuesday afternoon at JetBlue, waiting for him was Tate, who had been called over from Boston's minor-league camp.

A nod. From one manager to another manager, who saw it coming.


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