State Colleges

There are some “six degree” Miami connections to World Series champs Astros

By Walter Villa

Special to the Miami Herald

Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora watches batting practice during media day for baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Los Angeles.
Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora watches batting practice during media day for baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Los Angeles. AP

It’s kind of like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, baseball edition.

The Houston Astros, who clinched their first World Series championship on Wednesday in the same year their city was devastated by floods, had a former University of Miami infielder, Alex Cora, as their bench coach.

Houston also has pitcher Mike Fiers, a former Nova Southeastern University standout. But Fiers wasn’t on the active roster for the postseason.

To find an impact player who has a Bacon-like connection to Miami, check out third baseman Alex Bregman, who played for coach Paul Mainieri at LSU.

Mainieri played for Miami Columbus and Miami Dade College and later coached for six years at St. Thomas University. He earned his Bachelor’s degree at FIU and his master’s at St. Thomas.

“I’m so happy for Alex,” Mainieri said of Bregman, who had the walk-off hit in Game 5. “He’s obsessed with baseball, and it shows in his work ethic.”

Bregman was actually a catcher in the summer of 2012. He had been drafted in the 29th round by the Boston Red Sox, and scouts told him catcher would be his best route to the majors.

But LSU had just graduated its shortstop – Austin Nola, who is now, ironically, a minor-league catcher for the Marlins. Mainieri needed a shortstop, and Bregman became an immediate star, leading LSU to 157 wins in three years as a two-time All-American.

Houston made Bregman the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, and he made his major-league debut last season. This year, in his first full season in the majors, Bregman hit .284 with 39 doubles, five triples, 17 steals, 19 homers and 88 runs.

He’s part of an incredible Astros infield that includes Carlos Correa at shortstop and Jose Altuve at second base.

“Alex has a chance to be a superstar, but Correa and Altuve may be the two best players in baseball,” Mainieri said.

“I’m as happy for Alex as if he were my own son. He willed his way to the major leagues.”

As for Mainieri, he led LSU to a national title in 2009 and nearly got another championship this past season, finishing second to the Florida Gators.

Asked if that loss has been made easier with the passage of time over the past several months, Mainieri said: “I’ll get over it when they lay me in my grave a long time from now.”

Mainieri said he recently moved his parents, including Demie, who was the long-time coach at Miami Dade North, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana so that the family can be closer.


FIU baseball coach Mervyl Melendez knows what it’s like to be a pioneer.

Within the past few days, the number of Hispanic managers in the major leagues has tripled as the Boston Red Sox hired Cora and the Washington Nationals selected David Martinez as their next field bosses.

Cora, who is Puerto Rican, and Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican ancestry, join Rick Renteria, a Mexican-American who manages the Chicago White Sox.

“I think the trend will grow,” Melendez said. “(Cora and Martinez) played the game. They know what it takes. They will do a good job on the field and also relating to many of the players because of their shared backgrounds, knowing what triggers them.”

As for Melendez, he is one of a few Hispanic head coaches in Division I, a list that also includes Jose Vazquez of Alabama State, Mark Martinez at San Diego State and Eric Valenzuela (St. Mary’s).

“There are not many of us,” Melendez said. “We are extreme minorities.”