ANAHEIM -- For more than a decade, Martin Maldonado has trained with former Angels catcher Jose Molina during offseasons in their native Puerto Rico. Two or three times a week, Maldonado meets with his longtime mentor at a training complex in Bayamón to work on all aspects of their shared
ANAHEIM -- For more than a decade, Martin Maldonado has trained with former Angels catcher Jose Molina during offseasons in their native Puerto Rico. Two or three times a week, Maldonado meets with his longtime mentor at a training complex in Bayamón to work on all aspects of their shared craft.
Last December, the two were in the middle of one of their workouts when Maldonado received a call and learned he'd been traded to the Angels. It was a homecoming of sorts for Maldonado, who signed his first professional contract with the Halos 13 years ago. Better yet, he was joining the same organization that employed Molina as a catching coordinator.
"I was really happy because I knew he was going to be here," Maldonado said in Spanish. "He's someone who has helped me a lot over my career, so we were both happy."
Maldonado traces the official start to his relationship with Molina to 2004. At the time, Molina was in the Majors with the Angels, serving as a backup to his brother, Bengie, and Maldonado had just been selected by the club in the 27th round of that year's MLB Draft. In Maldonado, Molina saw a humble teenager who was eager to learn, so he decided to take him under his wing.
Maldonado spent only three seasons in the Angels organization before he was released, but the two stayed in touch and continued to work together over winters in Puerto Rico, which helped forge their strong bond.
"I don't want to say that it's like one between a father and a son because that makes me sound too old," Molina, 42, said. "But it's something like that. We've spent a lot of time together over the years. I met him when he was a baby, signed by the Angels at 17 years old. I always thought highly of him, and we've always worked hard to make sure his dream became a reality."
After the Angels let him go, Maldonado got a second chance in Milwaukee, where he broke into the Majors in 2011 and spent most of the next six seasons in a reserve role with the Brewers, behind All-Star backstop Jonathan Lucroy.
Now 30, Maldonado has excelled in his first season as a starting catcher for his original club, batting .245 with a .726 OPS, 11 home runs and 29 RBIs, all of which are career highs.
He is regularly praised for his elite defense and his work with the Angels' pitching staff, and has started 80 games this season, second to only Molina's youngest brother, Yadier.
Molina believes Maldonado's success with the Angels is well deserved.
"Life gives you opportunities, and you have to take advantage of them," Molina said. "He got one somewhere else first, but he did a good job and look what happened. He came back here because he did well. He's matured, and I know that maturity that he's developed over the years is what's made him one of the best catchers in the American League."
Molina visited Angel Stadium for a few days last week and spent some time inside the Angels' clubhouse, doling out advice to Maldonado and fellow backstop Juan Graterol.
Even when Molina isn't around in person, he is always available as a resource to Maldonado, and the two usually speak at least once a week over the phone. Since Maldonado had never started more than 79 games before this season, Molina often advises his pupil to go to the gym and the training room regularly in order to stay healthy.
While Molina is thrilled by how far Maldonado has come, the work between the two never stops. Even back in December, they didn't pause to celebrate after Maldonado received the call from the Angels.
"We kept working," Maldonado said. "He said, 'Now we have to work even harder.'"
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.