We flew into the Bay Area this afternoon. Instead of driving over the Bay Bridge to the home I leased for the first half this season, I rode the Rangers team bus to a hotel in the heart of San Francisco. It was weird on the plane to be reading scouting reports of the Giants’ hitters. It’s so strange how things work out. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Giants players at the ballpark, either tomorrow at workouts or Wednesday before the game. Throughout the post-season, Jamie’s been communicating with Kristen Posey, Chelsea Cain, Blanca Kelly (the wife of first-base coach Roberto), Nate Schierholtz’s family, a bunch of others, everyone wishing us luck and Jamie wishing them luck. But we’re not going to be socializing this week, at least I won’t be. I can’t. There is just too much to be thinking about and focusing on.
As Jamie and I were running errands yesterday in Dallas, we were talking about how lucky we are to have landed with the Rangers. I can’t imagine any other team being as welcoming as the Rangers have been, from the players to the clubbies to the front office staff. After we won the pennant Friday night, our families were invited to join us in the dugout. Even thought Jamie’s pretty new to the Rangers’ family, every coach and half a dozen of the team owners came up and hugged her and told her she and I were 100 percent a part of this victory. She was holding Jayda in her arms, and they were just looking all around as if it were dream. Jayda was trying to grab the red, white and blue confetti falling everywhere.
One moment that will stand out for me in the ALCS was the three-run home run. It wasn’t so much because I was able to come through under pressure, though that’s part of it. You always want to be the guy who steps up. For whatever reason, I’ve had success in the big moments. People started calling me “Big Money” when I was with the Angels and it carried over to the Giants. I think I do well in those situations because I’m not afraid to fail. I feel calm. I put my faith in God. I go to the plate believing absolutely that I will get a hit.
But two other things were happening when I was rounding the bases that day. First, I was just so happy and grateful that I almost cried. After struggling most of the season with an injured elbow, and getting traded, it was an emotional thing to be able to help my team win. Second, I was thinking of my father, who, as many of you know, died two years ago. I thumped my fist on my heart as I was heading to home. I was thinking, “Pai, this is both of us.” Then I pointed up to my mother and Jamie. None of this means anything without them.
When reporters talked to me afterward, I made a comment like, “Not bad for the fat kid who everyone made fun of for being so slow.” I was joking but I have to say there was a lot of satisfaction in proving people wrong about me. When I warmed up the starting pitchers during our games in Yankee Stadium, fans near the bullpen chanted, “Ben-gie’s fat! Ben-gie’s fat!” It was kind of funny, of course. They sounded like fourth-graders in the playground. The best part was they chanted in English AND in Spanish to make sure I was absolutely clear about what they were saying. So to drive in the go-ahead runs in front of those fans put a smile on my face.
Another memorable moment for me was Vladdy’s big hit after the Yankees again intentionally walked Josh Hamilton. I sat in the dugout and said a little prayer: “Please let him be the man today. If I have a hit coming to me today, give it to him instead.” And then bang – two-run double. I was so happy for him. He’s such a great player and was really struggling during the series. He deserved to be the hero.
When the game was over, the families not only got to come into the dugout, they were welcomed into the clubhouse for the champagne and beer showers. My mother went home with Jayda, and Jamie came in. She had told me earlier that if she ever got to join in the celebration, she wanted the full deal. She wanted to experience what it was like. As soon as I saw her, I poured two 20-ounce cans of beer over her head. We sprayed champagne at each other – and everyone else. We had a blast. Two hours later, she was still so drenched she could probably have filled a champagne bottle by wringing out her clothes. It was the best night.
Now back to work. We have a workout tomorrow at AT&T Park, then Game 1 Wednesday.
When we get back to Dallas, Yadier and Jose will be there. They’re in Puerto Rico right now but they’ll be there cheering me on for Games 3, 4 and, if we need it, 5. With me going to the World Series, now each of us Molina boys has been to two World Series each. Pretty amazing.
I’m going to try to post on the blog every day. So keep checking in!
I wasn’t able to watch Puerto Rico’s blowout over the USA on TV Saturday, but I followed it pitch-by-pitch on my cell phone. There’s a part of me, of course, that wishes I were there. But if I’m not going to get playing time, it doesn’t make sense to lose out on the work I’m getting here at spring training. That’s my first priority – getting ready for the season. I’m just so happy for Yadier and the rest of the guys. They’re playing really well, and it looks like they’re having a great time.
I did get to see Yadier’s heroics in the game against the Netherlands last week. He hit a two-run double in the eighth with Puerto Rico behind 1-0. When Yadier reached second, he pointed to the sky in tribute to our father. It was very special for me to see that. When I talked to him on the phone afterward, he said he had been watching the pitcher a day earlier against the Dominican and saw that he was throwing a lot of sliders. So he was waiting on a slider and there it was.
One of the small surprises of spring training so far is Randy Johnson. I knew he was a pro and a battler, and that, of course, is what I’ve seen so far. What I didn’t expect is how open and friendly he is. I thought he was a guy who just kept to himself. But he loves to talk baseball and he’s made himself available to the younger pitchers. What a great addition to the clubhouse.
Madison Bumgarner is one of the pitchers who has been watching Randy Johnson to learn whatever he can from the future Hall of Famer, and boy did he look good on the mound this weekend. He got into a little trouble early on but settled down nicely. He has great stuff. Electrifying stuff. He’s a left-hander who throws strikes. He’s got a good off-speed pitch but his greatest strength is he throws strikes. I loved what I saw.
Jamie and I are looking forward to moving into our rental house for the season, a terrific place in Lafayette with a pool and hot tub, a pool table and a movie theater. We lived in the city last year but because my two daughters spend so much time with us during the summer, we felt we were better off with a house with a yard and a pool.
The girls were with Jamie and me this weekend in Scottsdale, even though Kelsey’s soccer team was in the league championship game in Yuma. I felt bad that she missed it because she has been working so hard on soccer, but as a dad who adores his girls, it made me happy she chose to visit with me instead.
Both girls went with Jamie and me to the team dinner Friday night at the W Hotel in Scottsdale. They got all dressed up and looked beautiful. Their favorite player is one of my favorites, too: Pablo Sandoval. His parents from Venezuela are in Scottsdale for the first time, so Jamie and I have made them part of our extended family. We’ve been having them over for dinner and showing them around.
In the next couple weeks, my mother will be coming to stay with us and help us pack to move into the Lafayette house. She just had cataract surgery so she has to wait a little while before she can get on a plane. She is still mourning the loss of my father, but we have lots of family and friends in Puerto Rico to keep her company. I call her every morning on my way to the park and again on the way home.
Before I sign off, I’d like to ask you to pray for my aunt, my father’s sister. She is battling cancer and has been sent home from the hospital. There is nothing more the doctors can do. We are all so sad and are praying that she doesn’t suffer.
We’re flying to St. Louis today (Wednesday) and will arrive in time, I hope, for me to have dinner with my little brother, Yadier, the catcher for the Cardinals.
When the Cards were here last week, I took him to lunch before a game at Frutilandia, a Puerto Rican/Cuban restaurant in the Mission. It was great — a little taste of home. And my girlfriend and I had him over to our house for dinner one night, and we fell right into our long-running games of dominoes and poker and giving each other a hard time. (As many of you know, our middle brother, Jose, is also a catcher, for the New York Yankees. We have all somehow managed to win World Series rings. I’ve been told we’re the only trio of brothers in the history of Major League Baseball to do so.)
It’s funny that we all ended up as catchers. I had never caught a pitch in my life before an Angels scout visiting Puerto Rico put me behind the plate and told me to throw to second. The scout had come to check out Jose, not me. But my mother told him he should check me out, too. She didn’t tell him actually. She badgered him. She waved a newspaper clipping in the guy’s
face showing that I had hit about .400 as an outfielder on the team that had won the amateur championship in Puerto Rico that year. Out of politeness or fear – I’m not sure which — he told my mother to have me on the field at 3 and he’d have a look.
When Jose gave me the news, I told him no. “You go have a great career,” I said. “It’s cool. I’m fine.” But Jose insisted.
I finally said OK but told him there was one problem.
I had no baseball shoes. He asked where they were. I took him outside and pointed up. There, dangling from the telephone wire, were my shoes.
A week before the scout arrived, I had tied the shoelaces together and tossed them up there. I had decided to quit baseball. I had played so hard and so well that season, I had done everything I could think to do, and still there was not a bit of interest from a single Major League team. Really, I would have signed for a box of Snickers. I just wanted to play pro ball. But nothing. So that was it, I thought. It was never going to happen. Time to move on.
Then my mother hammers the scout into giving me a tryout. Jose said I could wear his spikes, which I did. But they were two sizes too big. I looked like I was wearing clown shoes.
When the scout saw me warming up with Jose and my father, he liked what he saw in my arm. That’s when he told me to get behind the plate and throw to second. I rocketed the ball.
Three days later, the Angels signed me for $1,000 and sent me to rookie ball in Mesa, Arizona. All I had was a Lance Parris catcher’s mitt from Wal-Mart, which I thought was the greatest thing — until I saw the beautiful leather mitts the pros had. Still, I used the Lance Parrish mitt until the stitching ripped.
My brothers and I talk a lot about catching when we get together, and all of us agree that part of the beauty of the position — part of what we all love about it — is the psychology of managing pitchers.
Well, I’m at AT&T Park and we’re about to board the bus to SFO to catch our flight to St. Louis, so more on the psychology of catching in the next blog. Thanks for checking in.