The education, Yadier Molina recalled, started at home, where a picture of the great Roberto Clemente hung prominently on the wall. His mother had insisted it be displayed.Then there were the stories, often told by Molina's father, who once sat in the same dugout as the greatest Major Leaguer to
The education, Yadier Molina recalled, started at home, where a picture of the great Roberto Clemente hung prominently on the wall. His mother had insisted it be displayed.
Then there were the stories, often told by Molina's father, who once sat in the same dugout as the greatest Major Leaguer to ever come from their island of Puerto Rico. Molina heard about the 3,000 hits, the 15 All-Star selections, the majestic throws from right field. He also learned about the importance of legacy, and how Clemente's could not be adequately summed up with stats.
"He was even better outside the lines," Molina recalled his father saying. "Those words stuck in my mind."
They also served as a guide for Molina, who wanted to follow in the philanthropic footsteps of his idol. That started with the creation of his charity, Foundation 4, in 2010 and has continued through his recent efforts to help rebuild Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Those efforts now link Molina to his hero.
Prior to Game 2 of the World Series, the Cardinals' veteran catcher was honored as the winner of the 2018 Roberto Clemente Award, considered to be the most prominent individual player award presented by Major League Baseball. It annually recognizes one player who best represents the sport through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.
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"This is a great honor for me and my family," said Molina, who was not able to attend Wednesday's ceremony because he was managing Puerto Rico's under-23 team in Colombia. "We didn't do any [of our work] thinking about this award, but receiving this award makes us proud of all we did down there in Puerto Rico."
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Molina's efforts to help his native island stood out even in the midst of widespread support from the Major League community.
"When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, baseball was really at its best," Manfred said. "The clubs responded in terms of relief. Clubs like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros flew planeloads of supplies into Puerto Rico. One of our clubs that's here tonight, the Dodgers, made a seven-figure contribution to hurricane relief. But Yadi was really the spearhead in some ways of the efforts in Puerto Rico."
Molina joins former Cards outfielder Carlos Beltran (2013) and former Major Leaguer Carlos Delgado ('06) as the only Puerto Rican-born players to receive the honor; Edgar Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born in New York, won the award as well, in '04.
For years, Molina has worked through Foundation 4 to assist youth impacted by poverty, abuse and cancer. Those efforts have included funding a safe house for battered children, purchasing an anesthesia machine for a children's hospital in his hometown of Bayamon, and helping expand a facility that tends to pediatric cancer patients.
But never has Molina been as personally involved with an effort as the one he undertook last year. He returned to Puerto Rico two days after the 2017 season ended to find his country ravaged by a Category 5 hurricane. Molina immediately went to work.
Molina's days started as soon as the sun came up. He walked the streets of Puerto Rico to hand deliver food, ice, water and other provisions. Molina cleared debris from roadways and repaired homes in some of the island's poorest and hardest hit areas. He typically didn't stop until after midnight, then he would rise and do it all again. This went on for 14 consecutive days.
"I never thought or pictured in my mind that when I would arrive there in Puerto Rico that I would see something like that," Molina said. "As soon as we landed, we saw all the destruction. It was crazy. There were no mountains. There were no trees there. There was no power. They needed so much help. I was in shock."
Molina raised over $800,000 to aid in the relief, including $200,000 from a celebrity softball event in Puerto Rico last December. His fundraising efforts continue, and he plans to return to Puerto Rico later this offseason to continue the work.
"We still need more help," Molina said, speaking for people on the island.
These efforts to help rebuild an area devastated by a natural disaster resonated with Vera Clemente, whose husband died while trying to fly provisions to Nicaragua after that country was hit by an earthquake. Clemente, MLB's Goodwill Ambassador, sits on the blue ribbon panel that considered the 30 nominees (one from each MLB team) for this year's award.
"[Molina] could have just sent help or fund some other organizations, but he was hands-on," said Roberto's son, Luis, who spoke on behalf of the Clemente family. "He went out there and helped fill whatever was needed. And his passion in doing so, I think exemplifies all the greatness of baseball's goodwill. So he's a great ambassador for baseball and for Puerto Rico, as well."
Each panelist ranked their top three selections. Clemente's ballot listed Molina first. The nine-time All-Star also won the fan vote by an overwhelming margin, according to an MLB official.
Red Sox manager and Puerto Rico native Alex Cora noted that Molina's absence from Wednesday's ceremony had a resonance all its own.
"The reason is the right one: He's managing our under-23 national team," Cora said. "And Clemente, he managed our national team at one point while he was playing in the big leagues. Because Yadi is not here because of that, it's like, 'Wow. It was meant to be.'"
Molina becomes the fifth Cardinals player to win the Roberto Clemente Award, more than any other club in the Majors. Previous recipients include Lou Brock (1975), Ozzie Smith ('95), Jose Pujols (2008) and Beltran.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.