FORT MYERS, Fla. - In case you didn't know, Alex Cora is a big fan of the World Baseball Classic. And he's not alone.
Despite the uncomfortable conversation emanating from the tournament earlier in the week thanks to Edwin Diaz's season-ending knee injury, the passion and entertainment that has come with this year's WBC has been hard to ignore.
And if there was any doubt, Cora - whose team, Puerto Rico, was bounced by Mexico Friday night - is here to remind everyone of the importance that these last few weeks have represented.
"It is becoming bigger," Cora said Saturday morning. When you have (Mike) Trout and (Shohei) Ohtani. The big boys are playing. I think TV has done an amazing job covering the event. The venues, too. That venue over there. If they are going to keep playing this tournament they should play in Miami the whole time. Just keep that one. Phoenix, too. And then Japan. I think the venues have been amazing. The fan bases have been great. The teams, very competitive. If you think about it, there have been just a few bad games here and there. Very competitive. Pitching is another level. It’s another reminder that you have guys throwing 100 (mph), too, and it’s March. The stuff is really good.
"Emotionally, it’s awesome. They really play for their country. They do everything. Martin (Maldonado) has caught how many games in a row, nine innings in March? We have guys who have played third base and they haven’t played third base. It’s a great tournament. From afar it was a lot easier to swallow it to have a few glasses of wine with Ramon (Vazquez) and talk baseball and watch. Just proud of us. They always show up for this one.
"One of the things I am very proud of with my country is whenever this tournament happens, everything negative that is happening stops. The front page of the newspaper is, this is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening. That’s what sport does. Arts, too. It unites countries. Hopefully that fever gets here. It’s getting here but not as passionate as other countries. We’ll see tonight. It might be different but hopefully people here buy into the tournament and they will enjoy the way you guys are enjoying it. It can become bigger and bigger. I don’t know if it is going to become FIFA, but at least for our tournament, baseball, it has been amazing."
As for some of the blowback that came with the Diaz injury, Cora offered his perspective.
"I think it’s just a handful of people, to be honest with you," he noted. "They have their opinion. I think overall the baseball community, they love this. Just ask the players and they will let you know. Puerto Rico, apart. USA, apart. Just ask the players how they feel about it, how they react to it. It’s genuine. I think that’s the word. It’s very genuine. I don’t want to say it’s the purest way of baseball because it’s baseball because Little League is the purest game of baseball ever. But you ask these guys being genuine and authentic about your reactions and how you feel about your team is amazing."