Managing Team PR: A Preview of What’s Ahead
Just five months after completing his 19-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina is back in the spotlight. He is currently managing Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. Team Puerto Rico will be taking on Nicaragua in their first game of the tournament on Saturday at noon ET in Miami.
Molina was determined to make the most of his first offseason as a retired player, and so accepted the opportunity to manage the professional winter ball team Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela.
Having taken part in all four World Baseball Classics, the Classic means a great deal to him, so he was delighted to get the chance to lead his team in a non-player role this time.
"I feel like it was the right decision for me to make," he stated. "I learned a lot over there in Venezuela. It was a great experience."
Christian Vázquez experienced a whirlwind of activity during the off-season. After signing a three-year, $18.9 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, the Puerto Rican catcher flew to San Juan to play in the Puerto Rican winter baseball league. He was greeted with an outpouring of support.
"When I arrived people were like, 'Oh, wow, it's Christian Vázquez!'," the catcher recalled. "That's the type of respect I received. Everyone in Puerto Rico was proud of me."
The respect that Vázquez received was well-deserved. He had an impressive season in 2019, hitting .276 with 14 home runs, 68 runs batted in, and a .743 on-base plus slugging percentage. And during his time in the winter league, he showed no signs of slowing down.
"I'm very proud of the way I played," said Vázquez. "Every game I was playing with a lot of heart, with a lot of passion. I was trying to set an example for the young guys in Puerto Rico."
Vazquez's performance was undoubtedly noticed by his teammates in Boston. Manager Alex Cora noted that during his time in the winter league, Vazquez had a three-game streak of getting thrown out, which is a testament to his competitive spirit.
It's clear that Vazquez has earned the respect of the people of Puerto Rico. And going into the start of the 2020 season, he looks to be a key member of the Red Sox roster.
Cora was an experienced utility player when the first WBC was held in 2006, and Molina was in the third season of his career. Cora alluded to the fact that Molina has since emerged as one of the great Puerto Rican catchers, alongside the likes of Ivan Rodriguez, Sandy Alomar and Javy Lopez.
This month, Molina is back in the limelight with his participation in the WBC. However, once the tournament is over, Molina plans to take a break from professional baseball to spend time with his son and his 15-U team in Puerto Rico. It wouldn't be a surprise if Molina reappears in the MLB in a few years in the form of managerial role.
Cora insists that Yadier Molina will not be taking on another venture in the near future. The former St. Louis Cardinals star has decided to enjoy his retirement and focus on his family for now.
Before that, however, Molina has a large responsibility ahead of him. He will be leading Team Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and is determined to bring home a win. The excitement of the Puerto Rican fans was palpable at JetBlue Park on Wednesday, where they came out in droves to cheer on the star catcher.
Cora believes that someone will eventually offer Molina another opportunity in the sport, but for now he should take advantage of his retirement and all the time it offers for spending with his family.
Cora, the general manager of Puerto Rico's 2017 WBC entry, believes highly of Molina taking over the managerial role in this year's tournament.
“This is huge for him,” Cora said. “It's a big deal back home and he is a bit apprehensive about it, but he'll be fine. They’ve got a good team.”
In order to bring the team together, the Puerto Rican squad followed tradition and dyed their hair blond. Molina was among them, and knowing the team's culture, he knew it was not optional.
“I had to,” Molina said. “I did it five days ago. If I didn't, I’d get into trouble.”
Yadier Molina is eager for the start of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), not just because he will be playing for Puerto Rico, but also because of the exuberance that everyone will be feeling.
Molina has played in all four of the previous WBCs, and enjoys seeing the typically stoic players get caught up in the enthusiasm of the tournament.
“You’re going to see veteran players jumping around, screaming and doing all this stuff that normally they don't do during the season, but it's fun,” said Molina.
For Molina, it would be the icing on the cake if Puerto Rico were to take home the gold medal, but he fully accepts that any team has a chance of winning.
“Obviously, the mentality of us from Puerto Rico is to take the gold medal," Molina said.