Bengie Molina tosses a baseball to Yadier Molina as he prepares for batting practice.
By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – This already has been a special spring for Yadier Molina, and what will happen beginning next week promises to make it even more memorable.
For the past two weeks, when Molina has arrived for the Cardinals’ daily workouts at Roger Dean Stadium, he has been joined by his older brother Bengie, hired in December as the team’s assistant hitting coach.
They will be together all season, and Yadier says that the time they already have spent together is the longest period they have been together since Bengie, eight years older than Yadier, left their native Puerto Rico when Yadier was nine to go to a junior college in Arizona before beginning his professional baseball career. That was 22 years ago.
“It’s been good so far, and I am looking forward to being with him all year,” Yadier said.
Bengie Molina had hoped that one day he would be able to play as his younger brother’s teammate, but that never happened before Bengie retired after the 2010 season at the end of a 13-year career, spent mostly in the American League. He had promised himself he would stay out of the game for three years before he sought a job as a coach, but that changed in December when a job came open with the Cardinals after Mark McGwire resigned to become the hitting coach of the Dodgers.
Yadier called his older brother and told him there was an opening and asked if he would be interested.
“He said yes, so I called Mike (Matheny) and Mike called him,” Yadier said.
If not for the lure of working with his younger brother, Bengie likely would have followed through with his retirement timetable.
“I always said to myself, ‘I’m going to take three years off after I retire,’” Bengie said. “It only lasted two. Yadi is a really big part in our family. Being with him is very special for me and for our Mom.”
From tossing him baseballs during workouts before live batting practice, to getting together and relaxing at each other’s homes after the day’s workouts, both Molina’s are enjoying their time together.
“The moments are special,” Bengie said. “Every morning when I come in I look forward to seeing his car in the parking lot and seeing him in the clubhouse. I haven’t had a chance to be with him every day before for many years.”
It didn’t take Bengie, a two-time Gold Glove winner himself, long to realize why his younger brother is now regarded by many as the best catcher in the major leagues.
“I had not noticed how hard he works until I got here,” Bengie said. “I don’t think anybody works as hard as he does.”
The reunion of two of the three Molina brothers is going to be placed on hold for a short while starting next week, but that is not upsetting to either Bengie or Yadier.
Bengie had a chance to play with the Molina’s other brother, Jose, now 37, for five years with the Angels from 2001 through 2005. Starting next week, Yadier gets a chance to play with Jose too.
The two Molinas will be the catchers for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and the team will assemble on March 2 in Ft. Myers, Fla., to begin preparations for the tournament. Puerto Rico’s first game will be on March 8, in San Juan against Spain.
Yadier said he has spent more time with Jose over the years, as both spend the off-season as neighbors not far from their childhood home. They have been teammates once, years ago, in a Puerto Rican winter league.
Yadier is looking forward to spending the Classic with his other brother, who did not play in the first two Classic’s when Yadier and Ivan Rodriguez were the two catchers for the Puerto Rican team. Jose is now with the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning his 14th season in the majors.
“That will be awesome too,” Yadier said. “It’s going to be a great experience and I am looking forward to it. It is going to be a great time.”
There is no doubt that Bengie will be watching the Puerto Rican team’s games, hoping they emerge from a tough first-round bracket that includes teams from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The top two finishers in the round-robin play will advance to the second round, which begins March 12 in Miami.
While his brother is away, however, Bengie will be continuing his work with the rest of Yadier’s St. Louis teammates, knowing his role in spring training to get the hitters ready for the season will be different than his work when the regular season begins.
Most of his time then will be spent in the cage, or in the film room, where one of his assignments will be to help break down opposing pitchers before they face the Cardinals.
Matheny has been impressed with how Bengie has been going about his work.
“He’s doing a great job,” Matheny said. “Right now he’s been focused a lot on the hitters but he’s been sharing with the catchers, and he’s naturally going to gravitate that way. Even when he’s analyzing some of the pitchers we’re going to be facing, he’s going to be breaking them down almost from a catcher’s perspective.
“He’s been doing a lot of things that he does well naturally. I think this is a good fit for him, and he seems to be enjoying being out here, and I know the guys have really taken to him.”
Bengie said he never envisioned himself working as a hitting coach, where he will be working with John Mabry, even though he was a .274 career hitter and averaged 17 homers a season.
“I am ready for the challenge,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to help everybody and try to help them learn. I want to use my knowledge to help them.”