Yadi 'happy to be back' with Cards, focused on final season

March 21st, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Not long after Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol started his team meeting on Monday, a loud ovation went up inside and was audible well beyond the clubhouse doors at Roger Dean Stadium.

Not surprisingly, the cheers were for catcher , whose Spring Training debut came a week late because of a personal matter back in Puerto Rico that demanded his attention. Even if the veteran had started camp on time, cheers would no doubt have been in order anyway, considering the catcher’s enormous stature within the organization and the fact that he is starting his 19th and final camp with the Cardinals.

After a week of unfortunate news surrounding shoulder injuries to pitchers Jack Flaherty (shoulder discomfort) and Alex Reyes (frayed right labrum) and Molina's absence, all felt right with the Cardinals again, that familiar No. 4 back in the fold. Molina, famous for his relentless work ethic, admittedly felt a bit of normalcy himself by being back around his teammates and resuming action behind the plate.

“It’s been tough the last couple of months, but everything is right right now and I’m happy to be back,” Molina said before taking the field for a round of batting practice and drills with his teammates. “It was tough to watch guys going after it. For February to be here and not be here with guys since Day One, that was tough. But right now, I’m here, and I’m happy for that.”

As relieved as Molina was to be back in Cardinals camp, Marmol was even happier to have one of the true pillars of the organization back in the fold. Marmol, the youngest manager in the Majors at 35, first met Molina more than a decade ago when Marmol was still a player and the catcher spoke to the organization’s Minor Leaguers. Molina embodies everything about the famed “Cardinal Way” with his work ethic, seriousness about the game and his professionalism, Marmol said.

“It’s good to see his face, good to see him back in uniform,” Marmol said of seeing Molina arrive at camp. “He’s an extremely big part of what we do here with our overall culture, so him walking through those doors means a lot.”

Molina, 39, is set to begin his 19th season with the Redbirds after re-upping his contract last fall and announcing his plans to retire following this season. A Cardinals lifer, Molina became the first catcher in league history to catch 2,000 games with one club -- a milestone he reached with longtime battery mate Adam Wainwright on the mound.

On top of that accomplishment, Molina is a two-time World Series champion, a key part of four St. Louis National League pennants, a nine-time Gold Glove winner and a four-time Platinum Glove winner. His 18 consecutive seasons in St. Louis so far make him the longest-tenured player with one team currently playing.

Though he tried blocking it out and focusing on his work, Molina said it crossed his mind on Monday that this marked beginning of the end of a career that could very well end up with him enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“What can I say? I know this is going to be my last [Spring Training] and I’m going to try to enjoy it,” he said. “I’ll keep working hard and trying to help the team win.”

Molina will be more satisfied once he’s fully ready to catch every day. A legendary worker among his teammates known to report to the team facility in Jupiter before sunrise, Molina said he’ll put in as much time as possible in the coming days to make up for the week of Spring Training he missed.

Having caught 2,107 games in his career (2,041 of those as a starter), Molina doesn’t think it will take him long to get his footing behind the plate. Getting in enough at-bats, however, could prove challenging, with Opening Day at Busch Stadium on April 7 rapidly approaching.

“I’ve been working out, so I’m close. Just got to get used to it, because I’m close,” Molina said. “That’s going to be a tough one -- to get (enough) at-bats in. It’s probably going to take me four or five days to start playing games and be on the field again. I’ll get used to it fast and we’ll see what happens.”