With Bengie and Jose Molina, who learned to love and respect the game from their father in Puerto Rico, Angels are relatively well set at the catching position.
October 17, 2002|Chris Foster and Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writers
Angel catcher Bengie Molina picked up a bat and inched his hands up the handle until he looked like some little kid gripping a log. He struck an odd, somewhat comical, batting stance, one he has seen through the years, in photographs and in person.
“This is how my father held the bat,” Molina said, as he lifted his right leg. “Then he would step like this and swing through the ball.”
Benjamin Molina handed his love of baseball down to Bengie and Jose Molina, also a catcher with the Angels. Bengie, the proud son, talks about him like a kid whose dad can beat up yours.
“My dad was short, but he could hit,” he said.
Benjamin Molina, the all-time hit leader in the Puerto Rican amateur league, still works making tools in a factory in Arecibo. The roots to the Molina family tree never got off the island. His sons, however, have branched out, all the way into the World Series.
When the Angels face the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, in Game 1 of the World Series, Bengie Molina, 28, will be the Angels’ starting catcher. Jose Molina, 27, will be in the dugout, backing up his brother. And Yadier Molina, 20, a minor league catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, will be in the stands at Edison Field, cheering on his brothers.
As the Angels worked out Tuesday, Yadier Molina watched from the dugout, dressed in an Angel cap and an Angel sweatshirt.
“This is my team right now,” Yadier said.
Three sons, three catchers, two with one major league team. They sprouted from a childhood overshadowed by poverty, where some days one meal had to do. What they hungered for — and what dominated their lives — was baseball.
Their father preached the game and organized youth teams, though none of the brothers played with each other on the same team until Jose joined the Angels last season. Just as the father is proud of his two sons playing in the World Series, the sons are proud of the father.
“It’s because of all the hard work he did,” Bengie said. “He started work at 6, came home at 4 and took us to the field by 5 every day — Saturday and Sunday too.”
The brothers hope to honor their father in person, in Puerto Rico. On Oct. 27, Benjamin Molina will be inducted into the Puerto Rican amateur baseball hall of fame — the same day reserved for Game 7 of the World Series.
“Hopefully, we can win before then,” Jose said. “I want to be there with him for that special moment.”
Bengie finished third in the AL rookie-of-the-year voting and was rewarded with a four-year, $4.25-million contract last March. That should have scared off any free-agent catchers, especially one who was his brother. There was no future in signing with the Angels.
Yet, this was Jose’s choice after the Cubs released him after the 2000 season.
“The Angels had a lot of interest in me right away,” Molina said. “I kept asking Bengie, ‘You sure you want me to do this?’ I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. I asked him three or four times. He kept saying it was no problem.”
Said Maddon: “They are very, very close. It’s almost like they grew up together.”
There is a difference of opinion on who had it worse growing up.
“He always had Mom on his side,” Jose said. “I got the blame for everything. I had an older brother and a younger brother. I got blamed for things both of them did.”
Said Bengie: “He always got punished? It was the opposite. I think Jose is just trying to make himself look better. When we were young, I was the crazy guy. I cut school and went to the river one time. He wouldn’t go with me.”
What they do agree on is that baseball was first and foremost in the family’s two-bedroom home in Vega Alta. Bengie, Jose and Yadier shared a room. There was little else besides the game.
Benjamin Molina never left Puerto Rico despite being a talented baseball player — a second baseman, not a catcher. He was a .320 lifetime hitter for Vega Alta in Beisbol Doble A — the Puerto Rican Amateur League.
“He was one of the best players ever in the amateur league,” said Osvaldo Gill, the league’s president. “He was a great line drive hitter and a good leadoff man. The only thing that had kept him out of the amateur baseball hall of fame is he had a temper. He had a few incidents with umpires.”
Benjamin received offers to sign and play professional. He also had a pregnant wife. The choice was easy. He took the factory job.
“Times were really hard in Puerto Rico then,” Jose said. “There weren’t a lot of jobs. My dad had to support his mom and dad and us.”
Benjamin was out of baseball, but baseball wasn’t out of him. He organized three teams — one for each of his sons — from neighbor kids, so his sons would learn the game.
On weekends, they would play games against other local teams.
Life away from baseball wasn’t a can of corn. There were days when lunch also was breakfast and dinner.
“A lot of times, we were frustrated,” Bengie said. “We see guys with the $100 shoes, the clothes and everything. We had these shoes that may cost $25 and that was our only pair.
“I think my dad and mom did a great job by keeping us from thinking about those things. They kept us in the park every day.”
Playing baseball paid off.
Scouts looked at Jose first. He was a talented catcher playing in the Puerto Rican amateur league in May 1992.
But it was Bengie, who had just graduated from Arizona Western Community College, who was signed first.
“I was doing a tryout and this Angel scout was standing next to my mother, watching,” Jose said. “He asked if she had any other sons. She had a newspaper and showed the guy a story on Bengie. He had got five hits in a game the night before. The scout said, ‘Bring him here tomorrow.’ “
Bengie, who was an infielder and pitcher, warmed up in the outfield the next day.
“The guy said, ‘I have a catcher’s mitt in my car, let’s try some throws to second base,’ ” Bengie said.
He signed the next day — as a catcher. Jose was a 14th-round pick by the Cubs that June.
Both labored in the minors for six seasons. Bengie finally got called up in August 1999. The Cubs called up Jose the next month.
“I called my dad to tell him and he said, ‘You got there, now show them what you can do,’ ” Jose said.
And now the Molina brothers have done just that. Even better, their father, mother and two cousins were visiting from Puerto Rico in July, when the Angels turned their catching duties over to the brothers, so Benjamin could share the good news in person.
“He is so proud of us,” Bengie said. “Everywhere he goes, everybody talks about us.”