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The Palm Beach Post

Third Molina Catching On Fast

By TOM D'ANGELO -- Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

24 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.

Yadier Molina is taking over the Cardinals' starting catching duties after playing behind Gold Glove winner Mike Matheny last season.


When a team is so willing to part with a catcher who possesses three Gold Gloves and is among the most professional players in the game, it says something about the alternative.

That is why the St. Louis Cardinals never got into a bidding war for Mike Matheny, who helped them reach the post-season four times in five years, when the San Francisco Giants offered more than $10 million for three seasons. Waiting to step in was Matheny's apprentice, 22-year-old Yadier Molina.

"Mike was the model here for how a catcher should conduct himself as far as relating to the pitchers," manager Tony La Russa said. "Yadier spent two years in camp and part of last year (with Matheny). That's his training.

"Follow the model."

Molina has more models than a Paris runway. He is one of three brothers in the big leagues, following Bengie, 30, a two-time Gold Glove winner with the Angels, and Jose, 29, Bengie's backup. They were raised in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, a tough town that molded Yadier.

Bengie and Jose believe Yadier has the skill to be the best of the three.

"Nothing surprises me about him after the way he grew up in Puerto Rico," Bengie told The Orange County Register. "What he's going through now, it's nothing compared to that. When Jose and I were younger, it was pretty quiet. But when he was coming up, it got pretty tough.

"I always worried about him, but baseball kept him out of trouble."

Yadier also aspired to follow fellow countrymen Benito Santiago, Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez and Sandy Alomar.

Yadier is proud of the Molinas' claim as the First Family of Catching. Three brothers have simultaneously played in the major leagues 19 times, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but never three catchers.

The most famous are the DiMaggios (Joe, Dom and Vince) and the Alous (Felipe, Jesus and Matty), who played in the same outfield with Giants. In the '70s, the Cardinals had brothers Jose, Hector and Tommy Cruz on the roster at the same time.

"I just want to follow them, be one of them," Yadier said of his own brothers.

Now, he just needs to follow Matheny, whose relationship with the pitching staff played an important role in its success.

"He cared about the pitchers more than he did his own personal game, besides blocking and calling the game," starter Matt Morris said. "He didn't take too much into the offensive side; he wanted to make sure the pitchers were out there doing their jobs and making pitches. So it's going to hurt. It will be a sore loss."

Molina was promoted June 3 after climbing through the organization as a fourth-round pick in the 2000 free-agent draft. He hit .267 in 135 at-bats in St. Louis and .302 in 37 games at Triple-A Memphis last season. His .356 slugging and .329 on-base percentages are higher than Matheny's career numbers.

Molina threw out eight of the 16 runners who attempted to steal on him.

"If he hadn't been with us before, it would be a real concern, but with the time he spent with us last year, he convinced me he's ready to catch in the big leagues," pitching coach Dave Duncan said.

Those 51 games last season built a solid foundation with the pitching staff.

"First couple of months, I was like, 'Wow, I'm here,' but I got more comfortable," Molina said. "They know what to do. I just followed them. I call my game, but we work together.

"What Mike did I will do the same thing."

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