I think it's been established that I will seize upon any opportunity to talk or write about Joey Cora and how great he is, so there's no way I was going to let his birthday come and go without a peep.
Some people find it odd that my favorite Friar of all time is one I never saw play for the team. Others think it blasphemous that one could have a preferred Padre not named Anthony Keith Gwynn. I can see where both parties are coming from but fandom isn't about sense and numbers. I'm practically obligated at this point to be the 13,891,582nd to reiterate that "fan" is short for "fanatic" but it's a valid point in this case. While it takes a particular mental defect to devote one's self to a team at all; rooting for the Padres is a more severe and perplexing illness altogether. Taking into account that none of it makes any sense, it should make perfect sense that my favorite player was, is and always will be Joey Cora.
The fact that I am a Padres fan is unlikely enough. When I showed up to kindergarten in my small West Virginia hometown in 1988 a kid in my class happened to be John Kruk's nephew. Being that I was five years old I thought that was the coolest thing in the world and became a Kruk fan. Somewhere over the next year I turned into a Padres fan because when he was traded to Philadelphia my allegiance remained with San Diego. During this time the only information I could get on the Padres came from poring over box scores in the local paper and those were few and far between as most of their games ended after the paper went to print. As cliche as it sounds, a few times a year I would sneak a radio into my room after my bedtime and stay up listening when the Padres played the relatively local Reds. Between these, I had heard of a player named Joey Cora but it wasn't until I got my first baseball card of him some time in 1990 that he stood out to me. Something about him made me take a liking to him; I don't know if it was his smile, the fact that he was a little guy like me, or what. It didn't make sense and I had no way of knowing I'd be writing about him 23 years later.
A lot had changed for both Joey and me by the time 1996 rolled around. I had continued to follow his career after the Padres traded him to the White Sox in '91 and finally got to see him on TV thanks to his playoff appearances in '93 with Chicago and '95 with Seattle. A moment I'll remember until I check out happened after a Senior League LL game. Earlier, from my post at second base (of course), I spotted in the bleachers the girl who all my friends and teammates already agreed was the most beautiful any of us had ever seen. After the game, once the coach gave his little "We'll get 'em next time" speech, I headed toward my friends Jamie and Chris behind the other dugout. "Hey," I heard a female voice behind me call, "you look like Joey Cora!" I spun around, astonished that anyone knew who Joey Cora was and that they would realize that's who I was parroting with the pins on my hat and the height of my pant cuffs. I was doubly shocked when I saw who the voice came from. Her. Her. I muttered something to the effect of "Uh, what?" before she explained that her favorite player was Joey. I made my friends wait in awe for about ten minutes while she and I talked about Joey Cora. It was a victory for puny nerds everywhere.
A lot has changed for Joey and me since 1996 rolled past. He retired from playing during Spring Training in '99 and moved into coaching, becoming his best friend and former double play partner Ozzie Guillen's right hand man, first with the White Sox and then with Miami. Joey embarked on a new chapter last week, now working as an on-air analyst for MLB Network. His brother Alex had a Major League career of his own in that time, one that came to an end during Spring Training of last season. As for my life, well, that's a completely different story for a completely different time and a completely different place. But the important part is that my fandom of both Joey and the Padres is still intact; in fact it's stronger than ever. After I check the mail each day for more copies of Joey Cora cards I already have, I set my Joey Cora keychain on the table next to my Padres coffee mug and pet my preciously needy cat. My cat Cora.