ST . PETERSBURG
Baseball's first family of catchers was bred on a sandlot a short hop away from the Molina family home in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.
There wasn't much to the field then, mostly dirt and a backstop, but it was hallowed ground to Bengie, 39, Jose, 39 and Yadier, 31. Their late father, Benjamin Sr., would practice with them every afternoon after his factory job, inviting kids of all ages from the tiny town to join.
Now, there is more sod on the renovated park, as well as four statues. There's one for each of the Molina brothers, the only sibling trio in history to catch in the majors, and only ones to each have won a World Series ring (they all have two).
The fourth statue is of Benjamin Sr., who was inducted into the Puerto Rico Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame the day that Jose and Bengie won the World Series with the Angels in 2002.
"Fitting," Bengie said.
"Everything that we are," said Jose, the Rays catcher, "is because of him."
Bengie is retired, now a first base coach with the Rangers. But Jose, the middle child, is excited to welcome their "baby" brother, Cardinals MVP finalist Yadier, tonight as the Rays begin a two-game interleague series at Tropicana Field.
The baby, turns out, has been the best.
"Superstar," Bengie said of Yadier. "He can carry a team catching and carry a team hitting. He can do everything."
"What can you say?" Jose said. "He's done everything — played in an All-Star Game, got Gold Gloves, World Series. But the most important thing is that respect that other players have for him."
The question the brothers often get is, why did they all pick catcher?
The surprising answer is — they didn't.
Jose was the first to put on catcher's gear. Though he pitched a little, his father groomed him to play behind the plate in daily, pro-style workouts. He's in his 15th big-league season, mostly as a backup, earning World Series rings with the Angels (2002) and Yankees (2009).
"I think it worked out," Jose said, smiling.
Bengie had not been a catcher, and had played everywhere else.
But when Jose had a tryout for the Angels in 1993 in Puerto Rico, Bengie was back home from junior college. Their mother, Gladys, kept prodding the scout, saying she had another son, proudly showing him a newspaper clip of him hitting .400.
"The scout said, 'Here's a catcher's glove, let's see how you throw to second base,' " Bengie recalls.
The Angels signed Bengie, who went on to play 13 big-league seasons, winning two Gold Gloves and two World Series rings (Angels, 2002 and Giants, 2010), racking up 144 home runs. Jose and Bengie played together for parts of five seasons in Anaheim (2001-05). During the championship season, Bengie started, and Jose was his backup.
"Just meant to be," Jose said.
"Unbelievable," Bengie said. "I still miss it."
The Molinas saved the best for last, with Yadier offering the complete package.
Yadier, a six-time Gold Glover and five-time All-Star, is one of the best at throwing out runners and managing pitching staffs. Plus, he can hit.
Yadier finished fourth in National League MVP voting in 2012 and third last season and was part of World Series champions in 2006 and 2011.
"Every organization is looking for a Yadier Molina," said Rays coach Jamie Nelson, a former catcher.
Yadier credits his older brothers.
"Catching has always been his strength, it's his gift," Yadier said of Jose, his teammate for Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. "It helped me, obviously, growing up, to have someone who could help with everything about catching."
The brothers have remained close, even launching Molina Records last year. Considering they all live in different places in the offseason — Jose in Puerto Rico, Yadier in Jupiter and Bengie in Arizona — they mostly get together on holidays.
With Father's Day coming Sunday, they're all thinking of Benjamin Sr., who died on a baseball field, suffering a heart attack six years ago at age 58 while coaching a youth game.
Bengie hopes the brothers can all one day wear the same uniform, maybe he and Jose coaching Yadier late in his career.
"Who knows?" Bengie said. "We have a pretty good chance. … That'd be awesome."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]