Yadi managing Team PR ... a glimpse of what's to come?

March 9th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was just over five months ago that Yadier Molina finished his distinguished, 19-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

He could be spending this spring on the beaches of his native Puerto Rico. 

But there Molina was on Wednesday night at JetBlue Park, managing Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game against the Red Sox in preparation for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. His team will play its first game in the tournament on Saturday at noon ET in Miami against Nicaragua.

The Classic has meant enough to Molina (he played in the first four WBCs) that he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to lead his team in a non-player role this time.

Molina proved how serious he was about the chance to manage for the first time when he cut into his first offseason as a retired player by managing Navegantes del Magallanes, a professional winter ball squad in Venezuela.

“Yeah, that was a quick decision by me,” Molina said of his transition from player to manager. “I feel like it was the right one because I learned a lot over there in Venezuela. It was a great experience for me.”

And in case you wondered if Molina had his game-face on during those winter ball games, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had a humorous nugget.

“He had a three-game streak of getting thrown out, which is, like, unique,” said Cora. 

If anyone can appreciate the arc of Molina’s stature in Puerto Rico, it is Cora.

In the first WBC in 2006, Cora was a veteran utility player and Molina was entering the third season of his career. 

“He was just a kid when he played the first one with us,” Cora said. “And now he's become this guy we put up there with great [Puerto Rican catchers], right? With Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] and Sandy [Alomar] and Javy [Lopez].”

While Molina is right back on the radar this month, it’s not going to be like that once the WBC ends.

“I’ll be with my son,” said Molina. “I have a team in Puerto Rico with my son, a 15-U team. I’ll be there for him so I’m going to be away from pro baseball.”

Don’t be surprised if Molina resurfaces after a few years as an MLB manager. 

“If he wants to do it in the future, he will do it,” said Cora. “I think somebody will give him a chance. But for now, I think he should just enjoy the family, enjoy his retirement life and then go from there.”

But before that retirement life, as Cora put it, Molina has a serious job to do. The fans of Puerto Rico are rabid about baseball and have a lot of excitement for this year’s tournament after finishing second to Team USA in the 2017 WBC. You could feel that in the crowd at JetBlue Park on Wednesday, as they came out in droves with their flags and their whistles and their jerseys, creating an unusually festive atmosphere for a Spring Training game.

“This is big for him,” said Cora, who was the general manager of Puerto Rico’s 2017 WBC entry. “This is huge back home. And I know he's a little bit nervous about it, but he'll be fine. They’ve got good players.”

They are also blond players. A team full of them. Just like in 2017, the Puerto Rican squad dyed their hair as a bonding experience.

Though he is now in a position of authority, Molina joined right in on the fun. He knows the culture of his team as well as anybody, having played with most of them. Molina knows going blond was not optional.

“I had to,” Molina said. “I did it like five days ago. If I didn't do it, I’d get in trouble.”

Molina is hoping for a deep run with Puerto Rico, but he’s also looking forward to watching the joy through the eyes of his players and even opposing teams.

“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. “This tournament, I played in all four [previous ones] and I enjoyed every one of them.”

There is one thing that could top what Molina experienced as a player in the WBC.

“Obviously, we know that the Dominican Republic, our brothers, are a tremendous team,” Molina said. “But this type of tournament can be won by any team. All countries have good players. Obviously, the mentality of us from Puerto Rico is to take the gold medal.”