Not too long ago STLCardsCards asked me, “What does Yadier Molina’s Puerto Rican heritage mean to you?” I have to admit I’ve never been asked that question. The closest I’ve come to answering this particular question was earlier this year when I wrote about Molina being my Roberto Clemente. While that piece captured some of the essence of what Molina means to me, I didn’t really go in depth. When I see Yadier Molina, or as I like to call him, El Líder, I feel pride.
One of the things Puerto Ricans are known for, outside of rum and good baseball players, is their pride toward Puerto Rico. I’d be willing to bet the first time you met a Puerto Rican, they told you they were Puerto Rican before you could even ask. I’d also be willing to bet, there is a small Puerto Rican flag hanging from their car’s rear-view mirror or draped in their home.
This deep affection for the island is instilled in us from birth. We carry that passion and pride with us every single day, even when it sometimes is wrongly mischaracterized as a snarky attitude or as a “Latin temper.” We believe when one of us has success, we all do. Our pride knows no limits, and we dream of the opportunity to put Puerto Rico’s name on top or, as we say, “en lo alto.”
The epitome of our pride was seen a couple of days after the championship game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic where Puerto Rico lost 8-0 to the United States. Before the championship game, a report stated Team Puerto Rico had already planned a parade in San Juan for the team including championship t-shirts for the occasion. Adam Jones and Team USA used that as motivation against the Puerto Rican team in the final. Jones said, “That didn’t sit well with us.”
What Adam Jones didn’t understand about Puerto Rican culture is we celebrate those who compete at the highest level in the name of Puerto Rico with a parade regardless of how they do. Molina asked for an apology because he felt the Puerto Rican people were being mocked for how they celebrate their heroes. I was fortunate to be at one of these parades when Puerto Rico’s representative won Miss Universe. Thousands upon thousands of people with flags, playing Puerto Rican salsa, lined the roads leading into San Juan just to get a glimpse of someone who brought Puerto Rico honor. I’ll never forget that moment.
A few days later, while at the parade, El Líder, responded to Jones’ comments in true Yadier Molina fashion.
Molina said, “That’s why I am sending this message to Jones, saying, look at this (referring to the parade), right now, you’re in spring training working out, and we’re with our people, with our silver medals. You’re in spring training and you’re working…You have no idea how to celebrate your honors, you don’t know what it means.”
Molina understood, as did the other members of Team Puerto Rico, the importance of what they were able to accomplish in the WBC. In 2016, when Puerto Rico’s economy collapsed, people were in desperate need of hope; Team Puerto Rico gave that to them. They gave them a way to escape the harsh reality of what was happening in Puerto Rico. Molina knew what this meant to millions on the island and the millions in the United States, like me.
Molina’s powerful words resonated within me. He was simply telling Jones, that winning was never about what place they took. The tournament was about representing the people they love and the island they call home. For a tiny island nation, whose world would be devastated six months later by Hurricane Maria, to be represented in the games was more than enough of a victory to last them a lifetime.