August 8, 1996 in Sports

No Need For Pest Control With M’S Cora A Bit On The Annoying Side, But Seattle Would Be Lost Without Him

Bob Sherwin Seattle Times

Feisty is good, if you’re 5-foot-8, 160-pound Joey Cora.

It’s what defines his personality. It’s what allowed the small man with a huge heart to reach the big leagues.

“He’s great for the ballclub because he’s a little pest. He keeps guys honest,” Mariners teammate Jay Buhner said. “He gets on people’s nerves.”

It has always been part of him, as infield coach Steve Smith can testify. He was Cora’s manager at Class AA Beaumont, Texas, in 1986, Cora’s second pro season.

“He was a young cocky guy coming out of college and he got beat around a little bit,” Smith said of the Vanderbilt graduate. “But he built himself into a good major-league player.”

Feistiness has taken Joey Cora here. It also nearly got him killed.

Ten years ago this summer, while playing for Beaumont, Cora had an exchange with fans during a game in San Antonio. As Cora walked from the clubhouse to the bus after the game, he was jumped and stabbed in the abdomen.

“A gang jumped him,” said Smith, who apprehended the assailant. “We thought he was dead. If the knife had been less than an inch in another direction, he would have been killed.”

“Everyone,” Cora remembered, “thought I was done.”

Hospitalized for a week, he missed two months of the season.

“I really saw a change in him after that,” Smith said.

“Yeah,” Cora mused, “I learned not to get stabbed (again).

“I was a little too feisty at that time,” Cora admitted. “It kind of changed me a little bit. It taught me that sometimes you have to let stuff go, so you don’t get into trouble. They were saying stuff. I could have avoided it, but I didn’t.”

The experience also taught him that life and his athletic ability are gifts. He has channeled that into helping others.

“That’s why I work with kids who have AIDS,” Cora said. “When I started to find out about it, seeing the kids dying from it, that’s what got me going.”

He started a Dreams of Love program in Puerto Rico for children who were born with AIDS. He also has reached out to Seattle organizations, doing the same work along with other local charities.

“Some people say, ‘Just forget about them. They’re going to die anyway, who why bother?”’ said Cora, who wears an AIDS ribbon his cap. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Teammate Alex Rodriguez talks of Cora’s competitive spirit in repectful tones.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Rodriguez said. “He sets the tone and he sets the attitue. …Those bunts against New York (in the playoffs) are exampels of who he is.”

It was as if Cora willed himself on base in the 11th inning of Game 5, with Seattle down 5-4 to the Yankees. He somehow avoided Don Mattingly’s tag after his drag bunt. Ken Griffey Jr. followed with a single, and Edgar Martinez hit the most famous double in club history to win the game and series.

“He doesn’t have to open his mouth,” Rodriguez said. “He showed me over the last two seasons, when you apply yourself, what you can do.”

Rodriguez, an all-star before he turned 21, leads the majors in batting with a .360 average. he also has steadied himslef in the field, committing just 10 errors and adeptly combining with Cora on double plays.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that his emergence is at least partly because of the little guy at second.

“Definitely,” Rodriguez said. “The way we came out and worked in spring training, he gas given me the mental edge to take it over the top.”

Playing with players like Rodriguez hasn’t hurt Cora, either.

“I just want to play with winning ballplayers, not necessarily the most gifted,” he said. “I like the Latin players like Edgar (Martinez), Sojo, Alex. But the way we all blend together, we don’t care whether it’s Latin, black, white, whatever. We play hard as the Seattle Mariners for everyone in Seattle.”

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