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Expos Odyssey Continues…Good For The Molinas; A Happy Homecoming For Angels' Catching Brothers

Expos Odyssey Takes Them Back To Puerto Rico

June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - For the Montreal Expos, their second trip of the year to Puerto Rico is just another stop on a long odyssey away from home.

"I guess it can be a little taxing at times," reliever Rocky Biddle said before leaving for San Juan, the third stop on a six-city, 22-game trip away from Montreal.

"You miss the comfort you're used to when you're home. It's a long time to be living out of a suitcase but there's nothing you can do about it."

While Montreal's trip might be draining, the Expos' opponents this week are looking forward to the new experience of games in Puerto Rico. The Anaheim Angels begin Montreal's six-game "homestand" on Tuesday night before the Texas Rangers come to town Friday.

While the Expos might get to bat last, the Rangers figure to have plenty of support because of Puerto Rican natives Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra.

"When I looked at the schedule and saw we were playing the Expos in Puerto Rico I was excited," Gonzalez said.

"I've looked forward to it ever since. It will be the first time I have ever played in front of my people and in my home country in a major league uniform."

Gonzalez is one of the greatest Puerto Rican players ever. His 421 career homers are the most for anyone born on the island.

Gonzalez said he'll have many friends and family members who will make the trip from his hometown of Levitown. It will also be his first time ever playing at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

"I think I might be a little nervous," he acknowledged. "You want to do well in a situation like that."

The Rangers opened the 2001 season against Toronto at the stadium, but Gonzalez was playing in Cleveland and Sierra didn't rejoin the team until later that season.

"It's going to be exciting," Sierra said. "A lot of people are going to be there rooting for us. Our families, they're going to have a chance to watch us play."

But first up this week will be the World Series champion Angels, who have a pair of Puerto Ricans of their own in sibling catchers Bengie and Jose Molina.

Even the players unfamiliar with the baseball-crazed island are looking forward to the trip.

"I never had a chance to play winter ball, so from my standpoint, I'm looking forward to it," outfielder Tim Salmon said. "Also, we have a day off there. It will be nice to see what it's like.

P.R. Is All Good For The Molinas; Series Against Expos That Starts Tonight In San Juan Is A Happy Homecoming For Angels' Catching Brothers

Bill Shaikin

June 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved. 

Of all the places Jose Molina imagined he might play on his birthday, he never dreamed of this one. He turns 28 today, and he'll play at home.

For Jose and his brother Bengie, the Angel catchers, life as a baseball player has meant summers away from their Puerto Rico homeland. Since 1993, when each made his minor league debut, the brothers have returned home once during a baseball season, for the funeral of their grandmother.

The occasion is happy tonight, bordering on thrilling. With the Angels playing three games here, as part of the Montreal Expos' 22-game fund-raiser, the Molina boys will have their first chance to play in front of family and friends, a rooting section Bengie said would number "150, easy."

Mom and Dad have flown to the mainland to catch the Angels and their catchers, but aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors have seen the Molina brothers play in person only in the Puerto Rican winter leagues, and before that in amateur leagues.

"Not," Bengie said, "in the best baseball in the world."

As the brothers packed their bags in Tampa, Fla., Sunday afternoon, they already anticipated an evening of Mom's home cooking -- steak and onions, avocado and fried plantains for Bengie; chicken, rice and beans for Jose. While Bengie moved to Arizona several years ago, Jose still lives in Puerto Rico and anxiously awaited his first visit to the home he and his wife purchased this spring, one he knows only from photographs.

"I just bought a house," he said. "Now I want to see it."

The Molina name is somewhat famous among baseball fans here, in part because of Dad. Benjamin Molina, a second baseman, was inducted into the Puerto Rican amateur baseball hall of fame in October -- on the same day the Angels won Game 7 of the World Series. The brothers anticipate a warm reception tonight, although nothing along the lines of the one fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar got when the Expos and New York Mets played here in April.

"There's Roberto Alomar and there's Bengie Molina. He's a Hall of Famer," Bengie said.

The atmosphere figures to be lively -- and enjoyable for all except the pitchers, once they notice the foul poles at Hiram Bithorn Stadium are only 315 feet from home plate. The crowds celebrate the game, buy pina coladas from vendors, cheer without a monkey appearing on the scoreboard and prefer nine innings of song and dance with their baseball.

"There's going to be a lot of music, a lot of enthusiasm," Bengie said. "It's Latin American baseball. It's the way we play baseball."

And, if the Molinas can convert some of the locals into Angel fans, so much the better.

"They're Yankee fans," Bengie said. "Everybody in Puerto Rico is a Yankee fan, except for my mom."

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