It has been a month since my father died. It doesn’t seem that long. Time seems to be standing still, as if I’m in a movie where everything is out of sequence and I can’t quite get my bearings. When the phone rings in my home in Yuma, I still think it might be Pai, even though I saw with my own eyes his coffin being lowered into the ground.
He was only 58 years old.
It happened on an overcast Saturday in October. Pai was across the street from my parents’ house in Puerto Rico, at the baseball field he built for the community’s children. He spent most of his days at that field. He groomed the mound. He raked the infield dirt. He made sure the grass was thick and green and cut. Every kid and parent in town knew my father. He loved baseball, and he made everyone around him love baseball.
On that Saturday, he looked up at the darkening sky and said a little prayer that the rain would hold off long enough to let the kids play their second game of the day.
I was at Legoland in Southern California with Jamie and my two daughters. The girls had been begging me to take them to Legoland. We drove from Yuma to San Diego on Friday, and the girls could barely sleep they were so excited to get to the park the next day. When we woke up in the hotel room on Saturday morning, I told the girls, “This is going to be the best day ever.”
It definitely started out that way. The girls drove the toy cars and got their “drivers’ licenses.” We had a great lunch. We were standing in line for more rides when I received the first of five phone calls.
“Your dad fell down and hit his head,” my cousin, Ramirito said. He sounded flustered and quickly ended the call.
“Something’s going on,” I told Jamie.
Then another cousin called.
“Your dad’s fine,” he said. “Don’t worry. The doctors are dealing with him.”
Then my brother Yadier called from Puerto Rico. Yadier and his wife, Wanda, just had their first baby, Yanuell. Yadier told me later that Pai had visited with Yadier and their 5-week-old boy that morning. Yadier said Pai blessed and kissed and cuddled the newborn. “I love you so much,” Yadier said to my father. “I love you, too,” my father said, holding Yadier tight in his big arms.
Now, on the phone with me, Yadier was crying and couldn’t talk. He handed the phone to my dad’s best friend, Vitin.
“You better make arrangements to come to Puerto Rico,” Vitin said. “Your dad’s hurting pretty bad.”
I was on the phone when I grabbed Jamie’s hand so tight, she knew something terrible was happening. She then grabbed the girls’ hands and helped them get out of line, while I was listening to my worst nightmare unfold before me, and I said, “Let’s go. We got to go.” I wanted to run all the way to Puerto Rico as fast as I could.
As we headed for the exit, my brother Jose’s wife, Yalicia, called from New York. Jose was in New York for laser eye surgery.
“Your dad’s not doing so good,” she said. “I’ll call you back.”
That’s when I knew something really bad was happening.
When Jose’s wife called again, I could hear Jose in the background crying out loud.
“Yalicia,” I said, almost shouting into the phone, “what’s going on? Just say it!”
She was crying, too.
“Your dad just passed away.”
I walked away from Jamie and my daughters and started to cry. How could this be? We had just seen him and my mom three weeks earlier. They were in St. Louis visiting Yadier, and they decided at the last minute to meet up with Jamie and me in San Diego, then accompany us to Arizona, where we were playing the Diamondbacks. They also got to surprise my girls, who spent the weekend with me in San Diego. When it was time to leave, I bought them first-class tickets back to Puerto Rico. At the airport, I hugged my father hard.
“I love you so much, Pai,” I said, and I asked him to bless me.
“God bless you, Mijo,” he said.
Outside Legoland, as we waited for the shuttle back to the hotel, I called relatives in Puerto Rico to find out what happened.
They told me my father had spent most of the day walking back and forth across the street from the field to his house. He had watched one baseball game already and was hoping to get the second game in before the rain. He had put on a pot of chicken soup and had iced several six-packs of Coors Light for friends who were going to stop by later that afternoon. He was feeling good — he climbed a tree in the backyard to get grapefruit for a special drink he liked to make. Then he returned to the field with new baseballs for the second game. A worker, Gallo, was fixing home plate, and my father offered to take over.
“You fixed the whole field,” Gallo said. “Let me do this little part.”
As my father walked off the field, he suddenly grabbed his chest. His knees buckled. He struggled to breathe. He fell to the ground. Everyone at the field rushed to his side, yelling and gasping. Someone called 911. My mother rushed out of the house to see what the commotion was about. The ambulance still hadn’t arrived. So Joaquinito (a good friend and a coach for my dad’s team) pulled his truck up to the field, and Luis Figueroa — the former Giants infielder who was visiting his sister next door to my parents’ house — lifted my father into the truck’s cab.
“Keep fighting!” Luis shouted at him. “You’re going to make it.”
As the truck sped to the hospital, Luis heard what he described as “a little snap.” And my father’s heart stopped.
The doctors in the emergency tried to revive him. “Keep going!” Yadier urged them. But it soon became clear there was nothing more anyone could do. Yadier punched the wall. He kicked over a chair. Several people guided him out of the room.
Outside, in the waiting room and spilling out to the parking lot, hundreds of people had gathered. Word had spread instantaneously. More people kept showing up. None of us knew how beloved my father truly was.
Meanwhile, in California, I made arrangements for a private plane to fly me to Puerto Rico on Saturday night. I arrived Sunday morning. The next few days still seem like a dream.
A large white tent was erected in the little street between my parents’ house and the ball field my father built. The street was shut down to traffic. Enormous arrangements of flowers — dozens of them — stood behind my father’s casket. Thousands of people streamed into the tent for two days and a night to pay their respects. At night, there was a group of people singing the songs he loved. You could hear the music throughout the town. A lot of baseball players showed up — Jose Rosado, Luis Figueroa, Pedro Feliciano, Juan Gonzalez, my dad’s cousin, Carmelo Martinez, Jose Valentin, Jose Hernandez and many of his former Puerto Rican teammates and Hall of Famers.
Pai had only three sons, but he had many, many stepsons.
I didn’t leave my father’s side. Jamie and I sat in the tent by his casket all through the night. I talked to him. I told him that everything I am today is because of him. I thanked him for being a great man. I told him not to worry about his sisters and brothers — they had little money and my father always feared for their well-being. I said I would take care of them. I told him good-bye.
Then his casket was carried from the tent and onto the field — to first base, second, third, home and finally to the pitcher’s mound. Each of us three sons was presented with a base and my mother was given home plate. At each base, the townspeople in the stands gave my father a standing ovation. I wore a baseball cap low on my forehead. I could barely speak a word to anyone, I was so devastated. I lifted my head only when I needed to greet a new visitor.
Then there was a procession through the town. My family and I walked behind the car carrying Pai’s body. People emerged from their homes, clapping and
crying. The freeway to the cemetery was closed on one side, and people got out of their cars to show their respect. We could barely get through the entrance to the cemetery because there were so many people.
We knew Pai was loved, but we truly had no idea how much. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
My mom was strong throughout the whole ordeal. She is stronger than everybody. I think she cries at night when she’s by herself, but she never shows that she is hurting. That’s how she’s always been.
Now that I’m back in Yuma, I talk to her two or three times a day. My Titi Rosalia and Titi Charo are spending nights with her. And Yadier and Jose are there.
I think I’m still in shock. It’s been a month, but I still feel like there are bricks in my heart. I keep thinking that somehow he knew he was leaving us and that’s why he decided at the last minute to fly to San Diego and Arizona in September to see me and the girls — and finally meet Jamie for the first time. And that’s why he hugged Yadier so tightly just hours before he died.
I’m not a poet, but I was so overwhelmed by my emotions that I wrote a poem. It’s too long to reprint here, but I’ll share a little bit.
You’re my inspiration,
My hero forever.
Thank you for loving me
more now than ever.
You’re who I am today
You made me in soul.
Now it’s my turn
to love ’til I’m old.
Rest in peace, Pai. I love you.
It’s packing day in the Molina household – though Jamie has been filling and taping boxes for the past couple weeks. We’re almost done and about to take a break to get a bite to eat at Bubba Gump’s or Benihana then finish when we get back.
This is our autumn ritual. We move into a house in the spring and move out in the fall. This year we lived in a great place in the Marina, though the four stories started to wear on my knees as the season progressed. Still, we loved being so close to the water and to Crissy Field.
We’ll drive one car back to Yuma tomorrow — it’s about a 10-hour trip — and have the second car shipped. We loaded up a 16-foot U-Haul and hired two of the clubbies to drive it home for us, then we’ll fly them back to San Francisco. It will be great to see my girls every weekend and take some trips with them this winter. We plan to go to Puerto Rico for Christmas – both my brothers will be there, too.
Javier came up with a great idea. January 6 is The Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, in Latin American countries. We put some grass and a cup of water in a box or a basket and put it under a bed for the kings’ camels. The kings come to visit, and like Santa Claus, leave gifts for the children. So my two brothers and I are going to dress up like the three kings and give away toys to the poor. I think it’s a terrific idea and I’m looking forward to meeting all the children and their parents and maybe making their holiday a little happier.
What I’ll do first when I get home, though, is put ice on my knees – for about a month. I’ll rest a lot and let my legs get back to normal. Then I’ll start working out again. I work out in the offseason with a trainer in Yuma. We go to the gym from 11 a.m. to about 1:30 then I rest for a bit. Then we run the stadium steps and do agility exercises. Then I rest again. Then we do another hour of cardio in the evening. By the start of spring training, I’m working out seven days a week.
We couldn’t have asked for a better game to end the season yesterday. I’m so happy that we were able to get Timmy the win and give voters another reason to pick him for the Cy Young. I think he should win it but it’s not a slam dunk. There are other guys who make a good case. But he has my vote, for sure. He should have had about 23 wins instead of 18, but we just didn’t score enough runs for him.
It was really tough in the clubhouse after the game saying good-bye to everyone. You’re together for about 185 games, through a long season, and you become like a true family. You’re looking forward to the rest and relaxation of the off-season, but you’re sad to leave, too. I’m not very good at saying goodbye. It’s very uncomfortable. Sometimes I have so much I want to say but I can’t because it’s so overwhelming. So you just say goodbye.
Saying good-bye to Omar might have been the toughest one. I did manage to tell him how I felt about him. I told him how much I appreciated his friendship, his knowledge of the game, his help and his positive mind. I wanted to make sure he knows we all love him and hope he’ll be back. The ovation the fans gave him yesterday was unbelievable. I would have cried my eyes out, if it were me. But he was so gracious and composed. I don’t know how he did it.
I better get going if we’re going to have everything packed up by tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me this season. I truly enjoyed writing this and reading all your posts. I will try my best to post some entries in the off-season, but if I don’t, I’ll start up again in spring training. I’m already missing baseball. OK, almost. Give me a month, then I’ll be counting the days until pitchers and catchers report …
There’s a lightness to the clubhouse this weekend, our last
of the season. Everyone is joking around, teasing, signing baseballs and
baseball cards for the clubbies and the staff and each other.
We’re all feeling good about beating the Dodgers Friday night
and hoping we take them again tonight and Sunday to end the season on an up
note. I think everyone on the team knows that, despite our record, we laid a
great foundation for next season. We go into the offseason excited and
energized for what might come next year.
Everyone always says if you come to ballpark every day,
you’ll see something you’ve never seen. If you came to the ballpark Friday
night, you saw something nobody has ever seen. It happened in the sixth inning
with the Dodgers leading 2-0. Pablo Sandoval was on first. I hit a pitch that
bounced off the right-field wall. I stopped at first, and Pablo advanced to
Bochy had already told Manny Burriss that if I reached
first, he’d go in as a pinch-runner for me. When I got to the dugout, I saw
Omar telling Bochy that he heard the ball hit the green metal roof above the
wall, which meant it should have been a home run. Bochy talked to the umpire,
who apparently felt confident in the call. Then Bochy saw the ball – it had
green paint on it. The crew chief called for a review under the new rule, and
he ruled it a home run,.
So now Manny’s standing at first, and I’m about to go back
out there to complete the run around the bases. But the umpire said that,
because Burriss was officially entered in the game, I couldn’t go back in. So
he ran the bases.
When he came into the dugout, I was laughing. “Nice swing,”
I heard the official scorer had to call the Elias Sports
Bureau to get a ruling on how to score it. They said I’d get credit for the
home run and the two RBI but not the run scored. So I am the only player in
baseball history who has hit a home run without scoring.
It was a crazy game, as Dodgers games often are. It was
great to come back in the 10th and hear the fans go wild.
It’s been a really nice few days for me. I found out on
Friday that I had won the Willie Mac Award for the second year in a row. It
surprised me because there were other guys who couldn’t easily have been
chosen. Randy Winn, for one. When Jim Moorehead from Media Relations told me in
the clubhouse, I got chills. It means so much to me that my teammates and
coaches respect me and think so highly of me. That’s the biggest thing, that
they appreciate my effort and my friendship inside and outside the game.
I’ll write again tomorrow and share my plans for the offseason.
Thanks for reading.
My priority is catching, so I don’t like to talk much about hitting. But it’s
ittle difficult to avoid the topic lately.
I have had good streaks before, but none like the one I had a week ago. It
was incredible. To quote the summary put out by Major League Baseball when I was named
National League Player of the Week: .652 batting average (15-for-23) with six doubles and nine RBIs for the week ending May 25, compiling a .654 on-base and 1.043 slugging percen
tage in that span.
I wish I could explain why a player catches fire at the plate. You just do. You see the ball better. It’s hard to put into words because, obviously, your eyesight doesn’t su
ddenly get better. Maybe something shifts in your brain that allows you — for some limited time — to be hyper-focused. I don’t know. All I know is that my eyes seem to pick the ball up right when it leaves the pitcher’s hand.
And here’s Part II of being on a good streak: When the ball reaches you, you know exactly what to do with it.
I always have a plan for every bat, which depends on who’s pitchin
g, what the game situation is, etc. So that’s the same whether you’re on a good streak or a bad one. But when you’re going good, you execute your plan almost every time. You get the pitch you’re looking for. You hit it just the way you want.
And of course, success breeds confidence. So when you’re going good, you relax. You don’t press. You don’t go trying to hit a home run when all you need is a base hit. You go up to the plate truly believing that nobody can get you out.
I know, too, that part of any really great streak has some element of luck. I got a lot of good pitches to hit. They weren’t pitching around me. They weren’t getting me out. I had the opportunities to come through and keep hitting.
It helped that part of the road trip was in Miami. I love that weather. It’s the weather of my childhood in Puerto Rico.
Some people have asked if I had any superstitions about how to keep the streak going — like not changing my socks or taking batting practice from a particular coach. I don’t believe in superstitions, so I just went about my day the way I always do.
We’re up against the Mets tonight and looking to have another exciting win like yesterday’s. I’m still feeling invincible at the plate. I still feel that nobody can get me out. Even when I do get out, I know I’m swinging well and still seeing the ball.
That’s it for now. I enjoy answering your questions, so don’t hesitate to write me. I’ll answer them in a future entry.
As always, thanks for reading and for supporting my teammates and me. We love seeing you out at the ballpark.