I didn’t say “biggest” moment as St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is just 26 years old, with years of baseball excitement and accomplishments still ahead of him. Steadily improving as a hitter, quietly moving up the Cardinals batting order each year and already the game’s best defender at his position, the sky is the limit for the Puerto Rican.
On Monday evening, manager Jose Oquendo’s Team Puerto Rico was clearly “in dutch” with the Dutch. With less than two innings remaining, his club was down 1-0 and en route to an embarrassing and potentially damaging defeat at the hands of a lightly-regarded Netherlands team.
Up stepped Molina to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning. Always a player to be relied upon in tough situations, the catcher came through again as he shot a two-run double sharply down the left field line and into the corner.
After the Puerto Ricans won the game by a 3-1 score, advancing to the second round of the WBC, cameras focused on Molina. Normally a stoic sort, his grin was so wide it put the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Batman’s nemesis The Joker to shame.
In this case, however, the only people who saw Molina as a bad guy were the citizens of the Netherlands.
The big hit evoked memories of 2006, as the Cardinals were on the verge of being eliminated from the NLCS by the New York Mets. Molina’s two-run home run saved the Cardinals season and propelled them into the World Series.
One of the most divisive issues across baseball this spring is this second World Baseball Classic. Fans either love the competition or see it as a major distraction to preparation for the 2009 MLB season.
What many Americans do not seem to understand or appreciate is how important this WBC is to these players and to the nations of the world. At a time when baseball seems to be losing ground in terms of overall popularity, this tournament draws global attention to the game like no other event could.
Molina is the only Cardinals front-line player in the 2009 WBC, playing for his homeland. The youngest of the three catching Molina brothers wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, his comments after his winning hit Monday placed this event ahead of his 2006 Mets’-killing blow.
“To play before your family, before your own people, there are very different emotions than playing a World Series before almost 50,000 people. It is really exciting, but here in front of your own people, your family. I believe this is my World Series and I enjoy it more here,” Molina excitedly said.
That doesn’t make Molina any less of a St. Louis Cardinal or any less committed to his professional duties. It does however underline the importance of these games to the players.
Personally, I am disappointed that some MLB clubs openly discourage their players from participating and serving as worldwide ambassadors for the game in the process. No, the timing isn’t ideal, but there isn’t a better time. Sure, players risk injury, just as they do in spring training.
With the Olympics having decertified baseball, these games stand alone as the true Series of the World.
The memory of what happened Monday night will be with Molina forever.
“It’s one of the greatest moments of my life. The double that I hit tonight is going to be in my heart all my life,” Molina exclaimed.
Good for him. Good for baseball.
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