St. Louis Cardinals: For me, Yadier Molina transcends baseball

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ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Yadier Molina
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Yadier Molina /
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Yadier Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher, announced his playing days would be over following the 2020 season.

For as long as I have been able to understand the game of baseball, there has been only one constant on the St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2005, Yadier Molina has served as the starting catcher for the Cardinals, in what arguably is the franchise’s most successful decade of baseball.

His play, both offensively and defensively, has made him one of the best players in the game today and arguably the best catch of his generation. His eight consecutive Gold Gloves is a testament to his defensive prowess in the game. While his offensive numbers are not all-time numbers, his ability to hone his craft throughout out the years is a testament to his character.

But over the weekend, Molina reminded us all that all good things must come to an end.

Molina announced he will retire from the game of baseball after his contract expires after the 2020 season. He will complete his 17-year career as a St. Louis Cardinal, and only as a St. Louis Cardinal. While not completely unexpected, the reality of his words resonated profoundly among Cardinal Nation.

But for all of his accolades, past and future, and all the memories we share as fans, Molina transcends baseball for me.

The pride of Puerto Rico

Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, my dad always told me there was no one like Roberto Clemente. For those who do not know, Clemente was the starting right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He is a member of the 3,000 hit club, a twelve-time All-Star, a winner of thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves, and a two-time World Champion, including a World Series MVP in 1971.

He was known for his unorthodox swing and cannon for an arm in right field. Clemente racked up a whopping 266 assists from the outfield in eighteen seasons of play. He finished his career with a lifetime average of .317, and was the 1966 NL MVP.

However, it wasn’t just Clemente’s play that raised his superstar status to one of legend. Clemente’s humanitarian efforts around the world were parts of his daily missions in life. He faced tough times during the Civil Right Era as there were very few black, Latino players in MLB. The Roberto Clemente award honors his legacy of sportsmanship, community involvement, and contributions to a player’s team.

Related Story: Molina to call it a career after 2020

On December 31st, 1972, Clemente’s plane crashed in route to Nicaragua on a humanitarian mission for earthquake victims. His body was never found. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973 after his fatal crash. He was the first Latino inducted into the HOF.

However, Clemente’s legacy doesn’t stop at the Hall of Fame. Clemente’s greatest legacy, perhaps, was his love for Puerto Rico and his fellow Puerto Ricans. He was the first true superstar from the island to make it, and he knew the importance of that.

No matter where he was, Clemente never forgot who he was or where he came from. His pride for Puerto Rico never wavered, even when faced with death threats and insults during the Civil Rights movement, and long after while playing in Pittsburgh. He created an identity for himself and the Puerto Rican people. His success was their success.

My dad says there is no one like Clemente, but, to me, Yadier Molina is my Clemente.

Los nuestros

Imagine what it must have felt like to a young kid, with the hopes and dreams of the MLB one day, hearing the St. Louis Cardinals have a Puerto Rican on the team, knowing there aren’t many people near St. Louis who don’t look or speak like you. It’s a story we often don’t hear, but it is my and others’ story.

When people speak of the competitor Clemente was, I see that in Molina. He is one of the fiercest competitors the St. Louis Cardinals have ever had. Every day he gives it his all because he wants to win, nothing more, nothing less. Any baseball fan should appreciate the time and devotion Molina puts in to honing his craft, to be best catcher in the game.

When people speak of how much of humanitarian Clemente was, I see that in Molina. Consider everything that has happened to Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. Some place have gone 112 days without power. But, there was the Molina family the day after the storm hit, organizing a relief fund for the people of Puerto Rico. It doesn’t stop there either. He also contributes to the Pujols foundation, Tsunami Waves, and others.

But of all the things Molina does like Clemente, Molina never forgets who he is or where he comes from.

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The phrase “los nuestros” was a common phrase used by the Puerto Rican team during the World Baseball Classic last year.

The simplest translation into English would be “ours” or “our boys.” As simple a phrase it is, it carried the weight of an entire nation, hoping for good news amidst economic collapse, not knowing months later Hurricane Maria would destroy more.

At the forefront of the Puerto Rican team, was the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina. He was not only the leader, or “el lider” as Puerto Ricans like to say, for the baseball team, but also for the millions of Puerto Ricans back home and across the United States.

The very thought of someone like Molina, playing for more than the name on the back, for a country with so little, is why Molina is my Clemente. He plays with the same pride Clemente played with forty-six years after Clemente’s death. For Molina there is no greater honor to play for his country, and for me, this is no one I would rather represent us than Molina.

His pride reminds me it’s okay to play a little salsa or reggaeton every now and then. He reminds me it’s okay to speak Spanish among the crowds. He reminds me to continue to be the best I can every day, and not matter what remember where you come from. Most importantly, he reminds me it’s okay to be different, even as the debate of race and politics rages on.

But, here is the truly remarkable thing about all of this.

As St. Louis Cardinals fans, we get to share in all of his success, even if we are different races and ethnicities. Think of his home run against the Mets in Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006. Remember, the time he silenced the crowd at Great American Ballpark with a home run after being showered with boos? What about every single time he’s made you smile? For the last thirteen seasons, Cardinal Nation has grown to love Yadier Molina like family. In turn, Molina embraced the city of St. Louis as family and a second home.

For the next three seasons, I’ll probably still be in denial of his retirement, but as a good friend said to me recently, “Father Time is undefeated.” So while you might be sad knowing Molina will retire, remember he was a St. Louis Cardinal his entire career. In a day where players move to pursue rings, there is something to be said about Molina staying in St. Louis.

As for me, while some believe there is no one like Clemente, I’ll continue to believe Yadier Molina is my Clemente. And I hope one day, I can tell my children there was no one like Yadier Molina.

Next: Just say no to Matheny

A Yadier, gracias por los años aquí en San Luis y por su dedicación en ser la mejor versión de usted. Gracias por siempre llevar el nombre de Puerto Rico en lo alto. Disfruta de su retiramiento y bendiciones.

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