JUPITER, Fla. • Sporting a Lionel Messi soccer jersey, Yadier Molina strolled into a Cardinals spring training clubhouse for the 15th consecutive February on Tuesday, a day ahead of the first official workouts for pitchers and catchers. “Time flies, huh?’ the 35-year-old catcher mused.
No Cardinal other than Stanley Frank Musial and Robert (no middle name) Gibson has played longer with the Cardinals without having performed for another team. Starting a three-year contract this season, Molina figures to make it 17 seasons in a Cardinals uniform. At 14 seasons, he is third now behind Musial (22) and Gibson (17), with the top five being rounded out by Pepper Martin (13) and, surprisingly, Tom Pagnozzi (12).
But, if time has flown, has Molina had fun? “Oh, yeah,” he said, smiling.
Nine playoff teams, seven league championship series, four World Series, two championships. And Molina is ever hopeful of more.
“New hopes, right?” he said. “New team, new year, new players. We’re good. We will be better.”
Molina said he likes the Cardinals’ pitching prospects, notably a name that hasn’t been mentioned much as a closer candidate, Sam Tuivailala.
“I think ‘Tui’ is going to make a big difference,” said Molina. “I’ve got confidence in him. He can pitch. I have no doubt he’s going to be all right.
“He was young. You’re going to find players ready to play at that age (25). But you’re going to find players who need time.
“Right now, he’s ready. I’m expecting big things from him.”
And that means not only setting up in the bullpen, but closing, said Molina.
“No doubt,” said Molina. “He’s tough. I think he’s ready to take that next step. But we’ve got Luke (Gregerson), who’s got experience.”
Tuivailala, up and down between Memphis nearly a half dozen times last year, posted a 2.55 earned run average and won three games. He said, “It was a good experience seeing how Yadi would call a game. Now I’m trying to think like he would think because he knows so much about the batters. Whatever he puts down, I’m confident to throw any pitch.”
Molina, who actually has been working out in Jupiter for some time, paying special attention to prized Puerto Rican minor league shortstop Delvin Perez, returned Monday night from Puerto Rico, where he owns a youth baseball team and appeared at a baseball convention.
Last week, the Puerto Rican team won the Caribbean Series for the second year in a row by beating the Dominican Republic in the final in Mexico. Former Cardinals farmhand Anthony Garcia was the tournament’s most valuable player from Puerto Rico, which had several players on its roster who played with Molina in the island’s runner-up finish in last spring’s World Baseball Classic.
The rebirth of baseball pre-eminence in Puerto Rico is significant because for financial reasons, the winter leagues were shut down for a season from 2007-08 and the young talent seemed to have dried up. But then came the likes of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, who played in the WBC, and younger players who performed in the Caribbean Series.
“They’ve got some talent,” said Molina, who also served as recruiting coordinator and quasi general manager and manager of Puerto Rico’s WBC club.
After a blackout Sunday, power was restored to people in the northern half of the island Monday, but still some 400,000 people are believed to be without power after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last fall.
“We’re OK. We’re fine,” said Molina.
“But a lot of people are leaving the island. They’re coming over here. And that’s not a good idea. We want people on the island. We don’t want people to leave.
“I understand the people leaving. It’s hard to live without power for five months, right? Especially when you’ve got people sick and they need medicines. They need power.”
J. MARTINEZ ADJUSTS DEFENSIVE SIGHTS
After spending much of last spring working in the outfield, Jose Martinez will spend much of this spring trying to improve at first base, where he played regularly at the end of last season.
The Venezuelan, who hit .309 with 14 homers in 272 at-bats last season, played some 17 games of winter ball in his native land this winter, with most of them at first base.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’m getting the flow of ground balls. But I’m not trying to rush it or anything. Learn a little bit every day.”
His teacher will be taskmaster and re-minted coach Jose Oquendo. “I’m excited because I know he’s one of the best at doing that,” Martinez said.
Although he reached base in each of his last 27 games and was a spark as the Cardinals made a belated playoff bid, Martinez doesn’t assume that he will be a regular this year.
“That’s not my mentality,” he said. “My mentality is to show up here with a good attitude and be part of the team — just like last year.”
Position players aren’t slated to report until Sunday, but most of them already are on hand. Jedd Gyorko, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler are the most prominent players who haven’t arrived in the clubhouse yet. … The official word on Bud Norris’ physical wasn’t available Tuesday evening, but the club was confident, assigning him No. 26. That number was worn the last two years by Seung Hwan Oh, who is with Texas now.