For the past three seasons Albert “Coco” Cordero has worked behind home plate calling pitches and putting out runners for the Sugar Land Skeeters and helping the baseball team to win two championships.
As the catcher prepares to enter his fourth season as a Skeeter and his 12th season as a professional baseball player, he has a lot more on his mind than balls, strikes, and baserunners.
He is a native of Venezuela, a South American country undergoing economic and political turmoil under a brutal dictatorship. Although his wife and daughter are here with him, he still has his parents, brothers, and other family members there and it weighs heavy on his heart.
“They’re just living the situation. Every day is really bad. They try to do the best to survive over there,” he said.
One of his brothers fled to Peru to make a new start. Cordero is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship and hopes he and his wife, Fidmar, can give their 4-year-old daughter, Andrea, a great life and a slice of the American dream.
“It is a better opportunity for me and my family,” he said. “I can give to my family’s stability. I think my daughter can get a better future in this country. I can help my family (of origin) from here, they’re still living there.”
The Corderos are safe here, far removed from the poverty and chaos of their homeland.
“It’s a good thing we started this process back in October, or else he’d be stuck over there,” said Chris Parsons, the Skeeters vice president of sponsorship sales.
He said the team, which had five Venezuelans on the roster last season, had players return to Venezuela after last season and now they’re stuck.
“The embassy’s closed and we can’t get any of the guys,” Parsons said.
The other Venezuelans included Javier Betancourt, Felipe Paulino, Jean Machi, and Alejandro Chacin. Paulino is still here and expected to return to the team.
Parsons has been working closely with Cordero to help him through the rigorous process of getting his residency status and starting on the path to citizenship.
“It’s a lot of paperwork to do,” Cordero said. “Basically, how many years I have in Sugar Land, how many years I’ve been playing professional baseball. Why I want to do my residency? Obviously, the team helped me a lot. They gave me the opportunity to be involved, to get my residency.”
“We had to submit all of his immigration paperwork, all of his playing career, we had to come up with a job description for a baseball player,” Parsons said.
He explained that once Cordero is approved for residency and receives his Green Card, his wife and daughter will be added to the process so they, too, can obtain their citizenship.
Cordero’s expenses have been covered by a grant from Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), a charitable organization started by Major League Baseball and the players association to help players in time of need.
“I call them my guardian angel,” he said.
Cordero’s journey to Sugar Land began in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, where he was born. He grew up in a small community about 45 minutes away.
“I started playing baseball there when I was two years and a half,” he said. “So, my family is like a baseball family. My grandfather was a manager for the Little League. When I was nine years old he passed away. I was playing and started doing really good. I started representing my city and everything in a lot of competitions.
“I got signed when I was 18 in 2008 with the Mets. I played like eight years with them. When I was playing Venezuela winter ball I signed with the Tigers and they gave me an opportunity to be in spring training, and I got released by them on the last day of spring training. After that I went to Miami for the opportunity to still play. I knew this guy, Johnny Velasquez, he was playing here (Sugar Land) in 2016, and I just started talking to him to see if he had a chance for me to play here.
“So, he talked to (manager) Gary (Gaetti) and after a week they called me and they asked me if I was ready to play and I said yes. I’m glad to be here. I’m just really appreciative of the Skeeters for me to be here and be part of the family,” he said.
Cordero endeared himself not only to the team, but to the fans and community as well. In 2017 he was named the Skeeters’ Community Man of the Year.
Cordero last left Venezuela March 30, 2018. Last season Fidmar and Andrea were able to join him here. The Corderos are guests of Dixie Spurling, their host family arranged through the Skeeters. Cordero started staying with her in 2016.
“She’s the sweetest girl I’ve ever met, Dixie Spurling,” he said. “She let me stay with my family there and she helps us a lot.”
He said he was given the choice to stay with another family or, “this girl with two dogs and a pig – if you don’t have a problem with pig,” he recalled. “From that day we’re still living with her and the pig’s getting big.”
“I keep thinking about how wonderful they are and how much I want them to get permanent residency so they can have a good life in America. They deserve it,” Spurling said. “I will miss them once they are in a position to move on with their lives here but I so excited for them. Albert is a great dad and husband.
“Albert and his family have become like family to me. There’s no language barrier between Albert and I but every once in a while he’s not sure about how to call something and I help him out. Now with Fidmar it is different. We manage to communicate, at first with and sometimes still, with Google Translate. We manage and she’s getting better. I try as best as I can to help her learn English but I’m not a teacher type and she wants and plans to take formal classes.”
Even though Cordero stays active in the community helping with baseball camps and such, he still helps his family and friends back in Venezuela. At the end of last season, he rounded up old shoes and other equipment his teammates left behind, boxed it up, and sent it to Venezuela. He said he hopes it will give youngsters there a chance to pursue their dream of playing ball.
Because of his immigration status, Cordero is in a unique position with the Skeeters. Most players come to independent ball in hopes of a first or second chance to play in the big leagues. Should that opportunity arise this year, Cordero said he would turn it down.
“What I tell those guys if someone from the big leagues try to get my contract right now I say no because I want to give my family stability first and I just want to finish the process and be in residency first and everything can come after. I don’t want to go to another team just to start the process over,” he said.
Besides that, he really likes life in Sugar Land.
“The first year I knew the fans, the people working here, Gary Gaetti, they are really, really nice people,” he said. “I really like the city. Everything’s really cool. Everything except the weather. The weather’s really, really hot.”
With illegal immigration being such a hot topic in the United States these days, Cordero is pleased he has an opportunity to do things the right way, even if it is a long, difficult path to take.
“I’m always saying that every country has rules that you have to respect,” he said. “If you come from another country, you have to do everything right. I know in other country a lot of bad things happen but you just try to figure out to get a better life but I’m always saying the rules are the rules and you have to be respectful. If they do everything right they’ve got more chance to do what they want. The first thing is respect.”
Cordero was given the nickname Coco while playing in the Mets organization. He said it came from a coach who kept mixing him up with Francisco “Coco” Cordero, a pitcher from the Dominican Republic. Both Corderos wear a large hat and helmet size and “have a big head.”
Albert Cordero, who is a switch hitter at the plate, is anxious for the season to start and is hopeful of bringing Sugar Land back-to-back Atlantic League championships.
“Every year you play for something,” he said. “You never play for loss. We get in there to do your best. You don’t want to strike out four times or lose 100 games. You’re here to win. It’s part of the game.”