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These Guys Know Squat
By Steve Rushin
March 14, 2005
Literature gave us the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Comedy gave us the three Howard brothers, Curly, Shemp and Moe. And somewhere between these high and low arts, in a crouch, are the three Molina brothers, Bengie, Jose and Yadier, all of whom are major league catchers. "To have three brothers in the big leagues, and all of them catchers?" asks 30-year-old Bengie, the starting backstop for the Los Angeles Angels. "It is absolutely incredible."
These guys know squat. "I'm sore 13 months of the year," says Bengie's backup on the Angels, 29-year-old Jose, freshly bruised from a ball-blocking drill.
"Five or six times a night, minimum, you're getting hit by a foul tip," says Bengie. "And you know they're coming, and you know you gotta get up after." But the Molinas are fearless. They're like the Flying Wallendas, these Crouching Molinas of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.
Last summer, on Jose's birthday, the youngest of the three Molina siblings, 21-year-old Yadier, was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom he'll start as catcher this season. As Jose and Bengie were stretching on the field before an Angels game in Anaheim, Yadier's first at bat in the big leagues was shown live on Angel Vision. "Base hit," says Jose, beaming. "Between shortstop and third base."
"They're very happy for me," says Yadier, now 22. The three children of Benjamin and Gladys Molina are closer than most siblings, often literally so. Bengie and Jose have adjacent lockers. And last October, when Yadier was in the World Series, he, Jose, Bengie and six other Molinas all played dominoes in the rookie's apartment in St. Louis. "It's a one-bedroom," says Jose with a laugh. They looked less like the Molina Brothers than like the Marx Brothers in the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera.
Two years earlier the family had convened in Anaheim for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. On the day Bengie and Jose won it all with the Angels, Benjamin, a second baseman, was inducted into the Puerto Rican Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. "I bet you he dropped some tears that day," says Bengie. Then, after a pause, he says, "Man, I miss him so hard."
Benjamin hasn't expired. He just hasn't retired. Despite Bengie's best efforts to move him to the mainland, Benjamin, 54, still works in a Westinghouse factory 30 minutes from Vega Alta. "He's Puerto Rican proud," says Bengie. "He's always worked standing up from 5:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. When we were kids, he'd get home at four, eat and at 4:45 be out on the field. On Saturday and Sunday he was at our games. So he sacrificed his whole life, all his free time with friends--all his beer time--for us."
And yet it was Gladys who got Bengie to the big leagues. "Long story," he says. "Hosie [Jose] had a tryout in the morning with the Angels in Puerto Rico, and the scout there asked my mom if she had any other sons. So my brother went and got me, and I tried out at shortstop and pitcher, because that's what I played. But the scout, an American guy, saw something in me and said, 'Find him a catcher's mitt, we're gonna try him as a catcher.' And I said, 'All right, let's go.' But there was a Puerto Rican scout there who kept yelling, 'No, no, no, he's not a catcher! Not him!
His brother Jose's the catcher!' And I was like, 'Man, shut up! This might be my only chance!' That was a Saturday. I signed on Monday." He was 17. "The only thing I wanted to do was be in the big leagues," Bengie says. "I don't care if I had to be a catcher, a ball boy, a water boy. I only wanted to be a part of the Big Show."
Jose signed with the Chicago Cubs. "When I got called up, it was to Wrigley Field," he says. "I walked up the stairs to the dugout, and the first thing I see is that scoreboard."
"For all the kids out there in Little League, whatever your dreams are, let me tell you, the big leagues are a triple-trillion- billion times better than whatever you're thinking," says Bengie, who made $2 million last season.
Jose, five feet away, agrees that reality far exceeds his dreams. "And my dreams," he says, "were pretty good."
This spring Bengie has reported to camp 22 pounds lighter. This has nothing to do with his testosterone levels and everything to do with his tostones levels. "They're fried plantains," he says, laughing. "It's very tough to stay fit on my mom's cooking, man. But I haven't been back to Puerto Rico in two years."
So Gladys and Benjamin come to the mainland once a summer to see their three sons, who have proved this much: The family that plays together stays together.
Bengie and his wife, Bibi, have two daughters. "Could you put their names in?" he pleads, tapping your notebook. "Kyshly and Kelssy. And could you put in your article that their daddy says, 'God bless you'?" ?
Three brothers, all big league catchers. They're like the Flying Wallendas, these Crouching Molinas of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.