Molina, Gonzalez Lead Puerto Rico to World Cup Berth

photo: 1B Yariel Gonzalez (Panama Baseball Federation)

It seems clear that Yadier Molina has interest in remaining in the game beyond his current three-year commitment to catch for the St. Louis Cardinals – and now, he has experienced early success as a manager.

Yadier Molina (Panama Baseball Federation)

This fall, the eight-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner was named by the Puerto Rico Baseball Federation to head its U-23 National Team.  Molina led his youthful roster to the bronze medal in the Americas World Cup qualifying tournament held from November 23 to December 3 in Chitre, Panama.

Among the contributors was a countryman – someone very familiar to and beloved by Molina. His bench coach was none other than Jose Oquendo, back as St. Louis’ third base coach for 2018 after a two-year absence. Also on the Molina’s staff was Yadier’s brother, former MLB catcher Jose Molina, and Victor Ramos.

Molina did far more to support his homeland than just put on a uniform and manage. It appears to me he also played a general manager role, as he was in charge of selecting the players and obtaining the necessary permits from the players’ current organizations. He also paid for travel accommodations for each player. Due to ongoing repairs from Hurricane Maria damage at home, the Puerto Rican squad prepared for the tourney at the Cardinals’ Spring Training facility in Jupiter, Florida, almost certainly arranged by Molina.

Puerto Rico finished the tournament on Sunday with a mercy-rule shortened, six-inning 17-1 drubbing of the Dominican Republic. Molina’s club logged an overall record of 6-3 over the two rounds of play. In the process, Puerto Rico secured a berth in the 2018 U-23 Baseball World Cup, to be held in the fall in Nicaragua with the four champions each representing the Americas, Europe and Asia.

“I’m very happy for the guys and the level that we demonstrated,” Molina told “A medal always makes you happy.”

A short video of the Puerto Rico team celebration can be seen here:

Other nations to advance this past weekend are champion Venezuela, Mexico (silver) and Dominican Republic, with the Cubans and host Panamanians eliminated. Six other nations bowed out in the first round (Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Salvador and Colombia).

Yariel Gonzalez (State College Spikes)

In Sunday’s bronze medal win, first baseman Yariel Gonzalez (State College) starred for Puerto Rico, launching two home runs and plating seven. The third-place hitter’s first shot occurred in the fifth inning with one runner on, and he followed with a grand slam in the sixth. With the final-day showing, Gonzalez concluded the tournament with four home runs.

Another prominent Cardinals farmhand was also on the 21-man Puerto Rico roster – shortstop Delvin Perez (Johnson City), who typically batted ninth.  On Sunday, Perez doubled, plated two and scored a run. Outfielder Ricardo Bautista (State College) was also on the team, but did not appear Sunday.

Among the Cardinals on the losing Dominican squad Sunday were first baseman Dariel Gomez (GCL), who went 0-for-3, and catcher Julio Rodriguez (Johnson City), who singled in two at-bats. Shortstop Edmundo Sosa (Palm Beach) also competed in the tourney representing Panama.

Earlier, Molina tasted success representing his homeland as a player. The 35-year old served as captain of the Puerto Rican Men’s National Team that earned a silver medal at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and gained All-WBC Team recognition. Molina also won a silver medal and received All-WBC Team honors with Puerto Rico in 2013.

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