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City of Brotherly Gloves

With Bengie and Jose Molina, who learned to love and respect the game from their father in Puerto Rico, Angels are relatively well set at the catching position.

October 17, 2002|Chris Foster and Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writers

Angel catcher Bengie Molina picked up a bat and inched his hands up the handle until he looked like some little kid gripping a log. He struck an odd, somewhat comical, batting stance, one he has seen through the years, in photographs and in person.

"This is how my father held the bat," Molina said, as he lifted his right leg. "Then he would step like this and swing through the ball."

Benjamin Molina handed his love of baseball down to Bengie and Jose Molina, also a catcher with the Angels. Bengie, the proud son, talks about him like a kid whose dad can beat up yours.

"My dad was short, but he could hit," he said.

Benjamin Molina, the all-time hit leader in the Puerto Rican amateur league, still works making tools in a factory in Arecibo. The roots to the Molina family tree never got off the island. His sons, however, have branched out, all the way into the World Series.

When the Angels face the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, in Game 1 of the World Series, Bengie Molina, 28, will be the Angels' starting catcher. Jose Molina, 27, will be in the dugout, backing up his brother. And Yadier Molina, 20, a minor league catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, will be in the stands at Edison Field, cheering on his brothers.

As the Angels worked out Tuesday, Yadier Molina watched from the dugout, dressed in an Angel cap and an Angel sweatshirt.

"This is my team right now," Yadier said.

Three sons, three catchers, two with one major league team. They sprouted from a childhood overshadowed by poverty, where some days one meal had to do. What they hungered for -- and what dominated their lives -- was baseball.

Their father preached the game and organized youth teams, though none of the brothers played with each other on the same team until Jose joined the Angels last season. Just as the father is proud of his two sons playing in the World Series, the sons are proud of the father.

"It's because of all the hard work he did," Bengie said. "He started work at 6, came home at 4 and took us to the field by 5 every day -- Saturday and Sunday too."

The brothers hope to honor their father in person, in Puerto Rico. On Oct. 27, Benjamin Molina will be inducted into the Puerto Rican amateur baseball hall of fame -- the same day reserved for Game 7 of the World Series.

"Hopefully, we can win before then," Jose said. "I want to be there with him for that special moment."

Last season was the one for trivia. When Jose replaced Bengie when he went on the disabled list, the transaction was believed to be the first in American League history in which one brother replaced another. In 1997, the Cincinnati Reds sent Bret Boone to the minor leagues and recalled Aaron Boone to take his place. Later in the season, the Molinas became the first siblings to catch for the same major league team since Amos and Lave Cross -- of the 1887 Louisville Colonels.

This season is the one for keeps. When Jose joined the Angels for the first time last year, he did so only because his brother was injured. When Jose joined the Angels this year, he did so only because his brother was injured.

But when the Angels traded veteran Jorge Fabregas to the Milwaukee Brewers in July in a five-player deal that brought outfielder Alex Ochoa to Anaheim, the Angels had chosen the Molina brothers as their two catchers.

"Bengie is extremely supportive of Jose," Angel coach Joe Maddon said. "I find that interesting and kind of neat at the same time. Before the game and during the game, he's always with him, trying to help him. Part of the reason Jose has done so well is because Bengie is so supportive of him."

The Angel coaches rave about Jose's defensive fundamentals and the Angel pitchers enjoy working with him, so a brother act is entirely possible next season. General Manager Bill Stoneman called Jose a legitimate major league catcher and said the Angels had received "a lot of calls" from other teams interested in trading for him this year.

"We're lucky to have him," Stoneman said.

Jose spent eight seasons in the Chicago Cub system, getting only a taste of big league experience as a September call-up in 1999. Now he is gorging himself with the Angels.

Jose, who had played 10 major league games before last year, hit .270 in 15 games for the Angels last season and threw out five of 16 runners attempting to steal. He hit .307 at triple-A Salt Lake this season and .271 for the Angels.

"Jose has proven he's a major league catcher," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

That's what Bengie Molina proved two years ago, when he hit .281 with 14 home runs. He was the hardest batter to strike out in the American League and threw out 33% of runners trying to steal.

Bengie finished third in the AL rookie-of-the-year voting and was rewarded with a four-year, $4.25-million contract last March. That should have scared off any free-agent catchers, especially one who was his brother. There was no future in signing with the Angels.

Yet, this was Jose's choice after the Cubs released him after the 2000 season.

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