Cora happy to move up

Joey Cora wasn’t expecting it, but he’s back in the big leagues and he couldn’t be happier.

Cora, who managed the Altoona Curve to a spot in the Class AA Eastern League playoffs this past season, will be coaching third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates when the 2017 season rolls around.

Cora, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, and pitchers Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Lisalverto Bonilla were in Altoona Thursday as part of the Pirates Caravan.

“The Pirates do a great job giving back to the community,” Cora said. “That’s one of the things we love about the organization.

“They really take time to give back to the community, and this is one of the ways.”

As part of the Salvation Army’s Project Bundle Up Warm Weather shopping event, the Pirates helped several area youngsters select clothing at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Logan Town Centre in Thursday morning before visiting residents of the James Van Zandt VA Medical Center in the afternoon.

“I’ll always remember Altoona as part of my journey (back to the majors),” Cora said. “Without a doubt, my family and me had a great time here. I’ll always remember Altoona in a fun way.”

Even though the Curve did well last season, Cora wasn’t sure where he’d land in 2017.

“I was a little bit surprised when the Pirates called,” he said. “I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t looking for it, but it happened.

“The Pirates valued what I did in Altoona and they obviously think I can do it in the big leagues,” he continued. “I hope to go there and help them win some games.”

A native of Puerto Rico, the 50-year-old Cora was the Padres’ No. 1 draft pick in 1985 after an All-American career at Vanderbilt. He had an 11-year stay in the majors as an infielder with the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Indians, earning all-star honors with the Mariners in 1997.

Following his playing days, Cora spent eight seasons as a coach for Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox. The ChiSox won the World Series in 2005.

“Hopefully, we can do what we did with the White Sox,” Cora said of his new job with the Pirates, which also will include coaching the infielders. “I feel I’m capable of doing a lot of things and will do anything they ask.

“The city (of Pittsburgh) deserves a championship and so does the organization.”

Taillon, who developed into one of the Pirates’ top starting pitchers last season, also enjoyed coming back to Altoona. He played parts of the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Curve.

“Altoona was a big part of my path (to the majors),” the big right-hander said. “I loved playing here. We drove by the field today, and it brought back memories.”

Taillon enjoyed interacting with the kids at Dick’s.

“We’ve been spreading some holiday cheer,” he said. “Community service means a lot to the Pirates and I’m glad to help out.”

Taillon spent about half the 2016 season with the Pirates and is looking forward to the future.

“The biggest thing I took away from the season was that I belonged (in the majors) and could have success,” he said. “People are putting a lot of expectations on me, but I don’t mind.

“I’d like to be a guy they depend on. I’ve had pressure all my life and I embrace the opportunity.”

Taillon said he hasn’t talked to Andrew McCutchen, but he’s been watching the trade rumors about the Pirate star closely.

“I really like him as a guy and I respect his ability as a player,” Taillon said of McCutchen. “But, if they go another route, I also understand that. The front office has done enough over the years to justify that.

“It’s in their hands, but I hope he stays.”