PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays catcher Jose Molina was interested just by the invitation to represent his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He was excited by the opportunity to play their first three games, starting tonight, in front of their home fans in San Juan.
And he was flat-out committed to be teammates, for the first and probably only time, with younger brother Yadier.
"I couldn't miss this, so I said, 'Let's do it,' " Molina said. "That's the two main reasons: You play for your country and play with your brother at the same time. It's going to be a good experience."
The Molinas are baseball's first family of catchers and have made some joint appearances. Jose teamed with older brother Bengie for parts of five seasons in Anaheim, where they won a World Series in 2002.
Bengie is now wearing the same Cardinals uniform as Yadier, serving as assistant hitting coach.
"I see this opportunity to be really awesome," Jose, who at 37 is seven years older than Yadier, said last week before leaving Rays camp.
"To get to spend time with him on the same team and in a Classic like this, it's just special. It'll be nice."
Yadier is similarly excited.
"It's going to be good for me and for my family," he said this offseason in St. Louis.
Family is one thing. National pride is another.
While Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist headed out last week talking passionately about how excited he was to play for his country, there doesn't seem to be any reciprocity as the Classic hasn't created much buzz or excitement among fans in the United States.
But it's a different story in Puerto Rico. Molina sat in the stands during the first two Classics, in 2006 and 2009, an experience he called both unique and awesome, and said the fans there take the competition much more seriously — like a World Series.
"It's a passion. They love the game," Molina said. "I'm not saying they don't love it here in the States, but it's pride. We take a lot of pride from being that small of an island compared with this big country and saying that we are proud of being from that small of a country. That's why people are so passionate about it."
And showing how well they can play it.
"There's a lot of people that are going to root for you out there," he said. "Pretty much all the Puerto Ricans in the world are going to be looking at those games. I always call it like it's the World Series of Puerto Rico because that's the way they take it there. People want us to do well. They want us to perform at our best. They want to see us win."
Rays closer Fernando Rodney is playing for the Dominican Republic and said it is similar on his island nation.
"People there love baseball," Rodney said. "And I feel like I'm going to be representing all the fans that love baseball. It's a different energy they bring to the games. When they see the players, they scream. They cheer. It's something different. It's unbelievable when they go to the games."
Playing in San Juan, in historic Hiram Bithorn Stadium, can make it even more intense.
"That puts pressure on the players," Molina said. "But at the same time, the adrenaline takes over, and you never know what can happen."
The whole experience, Molina said, should be one to relish.
"Representing your country means everything in the world," he said. "It should be awesome."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]