MIAMI -- With Cardinals pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 14, Yadier Molina completed his 2023-24 Winter Leagues season as manager of Criollos de Caguas on Wednesday, when the Puerto Rican squad was eliminated from the Caribbean Series with a 2-0 loss to the Curaçao Suns at loanDepot park.
Molina, who is slated to take part in Cardinals camp this spring after returning to the organization in December as a special assistant to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, took time Wednesday to reflect on the past year and a half. During this time -- after his retirement as a player following a 19-season run as St. Louis’ catcher -- Molina has managed Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League, skippered Team Puerto Rico in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and led the Criollos to the title in the 2023-24 Winter League season on his home island.
“I think 2023, 2024 have been spectacular,” he said. “I met a lot of people in my life that have helped me grow as a person and as a coach. I learned a lot as a person, from people that were around me. They helped me, and I’m grateful for that.”
Part of that process was his first Caribbean Series as a manager, just three years after being named to the All-Caribbean Series team as a player at Mazatlán, Mexico. Although his Criollos lost their last two games in this series, Molina talked about what he was able to take away from the event -- this time from the dugout.
“Overall, it was a tournament that gave every one of us a lot of experience,” he said. “Players, owners, GM. I’m really happy with the experience they gave me. Obviously, the results weren’t there. The last two games [losses to Panama and Curaçao] simply weren’t our best games.
“Not getting to the semifinal weighs on you. The goal is always to win the tournament. We couldn’t do it. But the guys gave their all, their maximum effort. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but I’m happy and proud to represent Puerto Rico always.”
Now, the focus shifts back to the Cardinals, a team he helped win two World Series and with whom he won nine Gold Gloves and was selected to 10 All-Star Games. One area of concentration for Molina this spring will be what he knows best -- catching -- with Willson Contreras going into his second year with the team and Iván Herrera projected to break camp with the big league club for the first time.
“We’ve got to keep going and moving forward,” Molina said of his development as a manager/instructor. “I want to keep learning about the game, about numbers. I want to try to fit in the game.”