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In Manny Mota's Family, Hope Running High for More Major Leaguers

February 13, 1992|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first thing that strikes you about the Mota family is their politeness and charm. The second is that there are too many to keep track of without a score card.

Let's see. There's good old No. 11 himself, Manuel Geronimo Mota, the onetime Dodger pinch-hitter extraordinaire. Then, in chronological order among the ballplaying sons, you have Jose, Andy, Domingo, Manuel Jr. and Antonio.

But there's more. The Motas not in the public light because of their baseball prowess are Rafael, Cecilia and Maria de Lourdes. And, of course, the wife and mother, Margarita.

The family has been, ever since Manny was traded to the Dodgers by the Montreal Expos in 1969, a fixture in the Los Angeles baseball scene.

Those who frequented Dodger Stadium during Manny's playing days may remember seeing some of his sons as batboys during games. At Dodger family games, the Motas could practically field their own team.

"I used to come here and just run around," Domingo, 22, recalled recently as his father, who now handles special assignments for the club, kept a watchful eye over some Dodger players at a Dodger Stadium workout. "Later, when I was a little older, my dad would show me how to hit. Those were fun days."

These days, baseball is considerably more serious for the Mota brothers. Of the four who are in the professional ranks, Jose and Domingo are in the Kansas City Royals organization, and Andy and Manuel Jr. play in the Houston Astros system. And the youngest, 14-year-old Antonio, is a promising freshman at St. Francis High in La Canada, near the family home in La Crescenta.

For Jose and Andy, the road to the major leagues hasn't been an expressway. Jose, 26, is going into his eighth season of professional baseball and Andy, 25, is headed for his sixth. Like Domingo, they starred at Cal State Fullerton before turning pro.

The time he has spent toiling in the minors has been one of endurance and plenty of soul-searching, but one that Jose said has been made easier by the support and encouragement of his family.

"You need lots of perseverance in this game," said Jose, who like everyone else in the family was born in the Dominican Republic. He lives in Glendora with his wife, Marie, and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Joey. "Our parents always taught us that through hard work and dedication, things can work out."

Both Jose and Andy finally hit pay dirt last summer, when they had brief stints in the majors.

Jose, then a second baseman with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, was called up by the San Diego Padres last May 24 to replace an injured player.

Said Jose: "I got the call early in the morning from my manager (Jim Riggleman) in Las Vegas. He told me to go by the park to pick up my stuff and the plane ticket for Houston (where the Padres were playing). . . . I didn't have time to tell anyone except my wife. I called my dad from the plane. The Dodgers were in Cincinnati. . . . When I finally talked to him, he acted very calm, but I could tell he was very happy for me. I started reading the Bible right on the plane, thanking God."

Andy was playing second base at Tucson when he got his chance at the end of the season. "We were just starting a road trip and we had a layover in Denver," said Andy by phone from Tucson, where he lives with his wife and two small children. "When the plane landed in Denver, my manager (Bob Skinner) told me I was going to join the club (Astros) in Montreal. I was in the lineup the next day. It was wonderful. I called my wife before I left for Montreal and she called my parents so we could have a three-way conversation. We were all crying."

Unfortunately for them, neither stuck with the big clubs.

Andy will be in spring training with the Astros next month. He batted .189 with six runs batted in in 27 games with Houston and .299 with 46 RBIs in 123 games at Tucson.

Jose, who signed with the Royals in November as an unrestricted minor-league free agent, is going to the major-league training camp with Kansas City after batting .222 in 17 games with San Diego and .289 with 37 RBIs in 107 games at Las Vegas.

If anyone can relate to what Jose, in particular, has gone through trying to make the major leagues, it is Manny Mota. He toiled in the minor leagues for seven seasons before getting a brief shot with the San Francisco Giants in 1962, then going to the majors for good with the Pittsburgh Pirates the following year. When he retired after the 1982 season with a .302 lifetime batting average, Mota was the major leagues' all-time pinch-hit leader with 150, a record he still holds.

"It was an emotional moment for me with Jose in the sense that he has had a lot of faith and patience and hope," Manny Mota said. "It was a very touching moment to see that his dream had finally materialized. Everyone in the family rejoiced."

The senior Mota had another thrilling moment last Sept. 12, when Andy came to the plate in the ninth inning against the Dodgers with an Astros runner on second base in a 2-2 game.

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