TOKYO -- With nine Gold Glove Awards, two World Series rings and thousands of crouches behind the plate, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina seemingly has done it all in a Hall of Fame-caliber career that, if he sticks to his plan to retire after 2020, will have spanned 17 seasons.
But there was one thing left on Molina's baseball bucket list that he wanted to check off before he calls it a career as an active Major League player. While Major League Baseball has been sending a team to Japan for decades for offseason All-Star goodwill tours, Molina, for varying reasons, had never been part of that traveling party.
• Yadi reunites with fellow star catcher in Japan
That's why he was one of the first players to commit to the tour this year, and since the team's arrival a few days ago, Molina has been enjoying his time in Japan as one of MLB's marquee attractions.
"For me, it's my first time here," Molina said Thursday, prior to the MLB All-Stars' 9-6 exhibition game win vs. the Yomiuri Giants. "I've never been able to come to Japan. It's more about the experience and getting to know the country."
As a younger player, Molina had an opportunity to join the tour, but his prior commitments to playing Winter Ball in his native Puerto Rico prevented him from being able to make the trip. When the offer was made earlier this year to join the 2018 tour, Molina jumped.
"I got the opportunity, and decided to come with my wife," Molina said. "As soon as they told me about this trip, I was on board right away."
Molina is unquestionably the elder statesman of the group. The MLB All-Star roster features some of the youngest players in baseball, including two National League Rookie of the Year Award candidates in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, both of whom are just 20 years old.
The 36-year-old Molina is the oldest player on the roster, but he's also the most celebrated -- during an introductory press conference with Japanese media on Wednesday, he fielded several questions about his "cannon" arm, and both managers named him specifically as one of the players they're most looking forward to watching play in the upcoming six-game tournament.
Atsunori Inaba, manager of the Samurai Japan All-Stars, singled out Molina when asked about the MLB All-Stars during a joint media junket on Thursday with managing counterpart Don Mattingly.
Mattingly also mentioned Molina specifically while addressing the quality of the roster he'll be guiding throughout the tournament.
"For me personally, I always love watching Yadier Molina play," Mattingly said. "The way he catches, controls the game -- he always excites when we play against him in the States, and I look forward to having him on our club."
It's been a busy year for Molina. Soon after he finished his 15th season with the Cardinals, he shifted his focus to managing Puerto Rico's under-23 national baseball team, which competed in the Baseball World Cup in Colombia. At the same time, Molina was named the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award for community service, for his work in aiding victims of Hurricane Maria.
This week, he's able to tour Japan in a more under-the-radar manner, blending in with the locals as he takes in the scenery and culture of a country famous for its beauty, good food and deep traditions.
When he arrives to the ballpark and slips on his uniform, however, life becomes a little more hectic, especially in an environment where the spotlight shines directly on the players with the most impressive resumes. As a nine-time All-Star and with a reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in history, Molina stands out, even when he's on the other side of the world from his baseball home in St. Louis.
"When you come to a country like this, everybody respects everybody and they respect the game," Molina said. "It makes you feel good when you hear those comments. It's just an honor just to be here representing the country and [Major League] Baseball. It's just a great honor."
Japan All-Star Series schedule (watch games live on MLB Network)
• Thursday: MLB All-Stars 9, Yomiuri Giants 6
• Friday: 6:05 p.m. local/4:05 a.m. ET
• Saturday: 6:30 p.m. local/4:30 a.m. ET
• Sunday: 7 p.m. local/ 5 a.m. ET
• Tuesday: 6:30 p.m. local/4:30 a.m. ET
• Nov. 14: 7 p.m. local/5 a.m. ET
• Nov. 15: 6 p.m. local/4 a.m. ET