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Alex Cora looks forward to competing against Yankees’ Aaron Boone as each begins managerial career

(Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports)

Red Sox manager Alex Cora was in his native Puerto Rico Saturday, arriving at a charity function hosted by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, when he saw a contingent of reporters approaching him.

"I knew what had happened,'' said Cora, speaking by phone, of the Yankees' acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton.

"But when I got to the ballpark, I saw all these media members coming toward me, I thought, 'Oh, I know what this is about; this is big news right here.' The Yankees thought he would make them better. He's an impactful player. We all saw what he did last year. They added another powerful bat to that lineup and it's someone we have to face.''

As tough as it might be to face Stanton -- and Aaron Judge and others in a powerful New York batting order -- 19 times next season, Cora looks forward to matching wits with new Yankee manager Aaron Boone.

As recently as a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that two players with one season of big league dugout experience between them -- Cora served as bench coach for the world champion Houston Astros in 2017 -- would be put in charge of two of the game's most iconic franchises.

"People might say that we didn't pay our dues,'' said Cora. "But maybe we paid them in another way. Those four years as ESPN prepared me for what's coming. Same thing with Aaron. He had to prepare, go over scouting reports. So in a sense, we did pay our dues. It's different than what others did, but at the same time, it took a lot of work to try to be good at what we did.''

Cora and Boone's playing careers overlapped for 14 seasons -- Boone began his a year before Cora, and Cora played two years after Boone's time in the big leagues came to an end -- and they knew each other casually as competitors. But they really began to bond at ESPN, where Boone was a game analyst and Cora was a studio analyst.

"He helped me a lot through the transition,'' said Cora, "and how to work on that stage. I'm glad that I was able to not only work with him, but get to know him as a person. He's a guy I really like. He's an outstanding person and it was fun to work with him.''

When Boone proclaimed his interest in the managerial opening back in November, it caught many by surprise. But Cora half-expected Boone to pursue a managerial job.

"Last year, whenever we played a game (on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball),'' Cora said, "we would make sure to see one another and talk about our seasons. He wanted to know what it was like (in the dugout). It was my first experience as a coach so his questions and his interest were telling me that he was thinking about getting back on the field.

"As we all know, that's what (the Boone) family does (with grandfather Ray a legendary scout, father Bob a player and manager and brother Bret a player) — they work in baseball. He didn't call me throughout the process, but I was very aware that he was a candidate and I knew he'd be prepared, that he was going to be OK.''

Neither Cora nor Boone have any real managerial experience, although Cora did manage some in winter ball. But Cora knew that Boone had gotten his own experience working for ESPN.

"One thing about those Sunday night games,'' Cora said, "the opportunity to talk to managers every week gave him a different look. He was able to connect with managers and talk to them and see how they think. So I felt like Aaron was prepared for (the interview) and I wasn't surprised to read that he 'won the room,' because that's what he does. People pay attention to him. He's smart, a well-spoken guy.''

Even before Boone was interviewed for the post, he and Cora talked before Game 7 of the ALCS between Cora's Houston Astros and the Yankees.

"I told him that the Red Sox and Yankees were going to keep games under three hours and 15 minutes next year,'' cracked Cora. "That was before he became manager, but I hope he remembers that part. But it's going to be fun, man -- two great franchises, both have the goal of winning a World Series and the fanbases have passion for their teams. It's going to be different.

"We were teammates for four years before this past season, helping each other out. Now, the conversations are going to be about, 'How's the family?' stuff like that. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm happy he's back on the field, happy he got the job and looking forward to seeing him a lot. He's a guy I really respect.

"I understand the magnitude of Yankees-Red Sox, but at the end of the day, it's not going to change. I know how I feel about him and how he feels about me and that's not going to change because of who we are now. We understand we have a job to do. The spotlight's going to be on our teams, we know that. I want to beat him and he wants to beat me. But it's going to be fun and I'm happy I'm going to compete against him.''