Cardinals’ Yadier Molina wins Roberto Clemente Award
ST. LOUIS -- The hours were long, the needs great, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria that awaited Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina a year ago when he arrived in Puerto Rico, supplies in tow, was far more profound than he could have imagined.
He referred to it later “as a nightmare down there,” and after spending 14 days delivering water and food and repairing roofs and clearing roads, Molina left his home island with the same sensation he had this week as he revisited the efforts he led 12 months ago.
The work isn’t over.
For all that Molina has done and what he and his wife organized through their foundation, Foundation4 (Fundacion4), he has won this year’s Roberto Clemente Award. The award, named for the Hall of Fame outfielder who lost his life while headed on a relief mission, is baseball’s highest honor for humanitarian work and is given every year to a player who best displays the traits, on and off the field, of Clemente, an icon on his home island of Puerto Rico.
“When I was growing up he was like a legend for us, like a hero, and he was everywhere,” Molina said this week from Colombia, where he is managing Puerto Rico’s under-23 team in a world tournament. “He was one of my heroes back in the day -- still one of my heroes -- and just to have this award means a lot to me and to my family. I’m happy for that. It’s great. For the people of Puerto Rico, we’ve been through many (challenges). We didn’t do it thinking of this award. But just to receive this award and makes us proud, makes us proud, after all we did down there in Puerto Rico.
“It’s just a good feeling to add this award.”
Molina is the third Puerto Rican-born player to win the award named for Clemente, and the fourth from Puerto Rico. He joins former Cardinal Carlos Beltran (2013) and sluggers Edgar Martinez (2004) and Carlos Delgado (2006).
“I’m very proud of him,” Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said before Wednesday’s World Series game.
Cora, who is also from Puerto Rico, was a teammate with Molina briefly during spring training with the Cardinals.
“Actually it’s kind of like ironic that I don’t think he’s going to be able to be here, but the reason is the right one: He’s managing our under-23 national team. So he gets the Roberto Clemente Award. 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.
“Very proud of him,” Cora continued. “Very proud of what he’s done throughout his career. But I think last year was the highlight of his career. What he did was amazing.”
Molina is the fifth Cardinal to win the award -- more than any other organization. Beltran received the award while he was playing in the World Series with the Cardinals. Past winners from the Cardinals were Albert Pujols (2008), Ozzie Smith (1995), and Lou Brock (1975).
Each club nominates a player for the Clemente Award and a blue-ribbon panel helps select the winner with input from a fan vote and Vera Clememte, Roberto’s widow. Molina received a preponderance of the fan vote for one of the largest margins ever, according to a league official. Molina was also the top choice for Vera Clemente. That fact was revealed to Molina on Tuesday afternoon.
“Yadier has done a lot of good things with his foundation in (Puerto Rico),” Beltran wrote in a text message Wednesday morning. “He has helped the hospital develop operating rooms, he has given a lot of scholarships to kids in Puerto Rico, (and) he also was very active in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. He went to different cities ... with some staff (from) his foundation helping a lot of families. He has to feel very honored. As a winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, I’m very proud of him.”
Taking a break from the tournament in Colombia this week, Molina recalled how his mother and father both told him stories about Clemente, and how at school he and other students had to learn about Clemente and do reports on the Hall of Fame right fielder. Molina’s father, Benjamin Sr., was a standout shortstop in his hometown, and he, along with his three sons, are honored with statues at the ballpark named for their family in Puerto Rico. A decade ago, Benjamin Sr. died of a heart attack at the ballpark, shortly after raking the infield. The heart attack happened near home plate.
Yadier Molina said he believes his father, who was 22 when Clemente died in a plane crash, once practiced with Clemente. They did not play on the same team.
But they shared a field, and later Benjamin Sr. shared a lesson.
“Hey, you know Roberto Clemente is a good player, right?” Yadier recalled his father asking him once.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s one of the greatest,’ ” Molina said. ” ‘He was even better outside the lines.’ Those words I keep in my mind, and that’s why this award means a lot to me.”