October 20, 2010

Not bad; not bad at all

Of all the players from the 2002 World Series team that went on to play for someone else; Bengie Molina is the guy I miss the most. I miss him more than Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein or anyone else.

Last night he reminded me and all Angel fans why he was so beloved. He had what might have been the biggest hit in the ALCS, a three run homerun to put the Rangers ahead for good in game four.

"It's not a bad job for a fat kid who everyone makes fun of when he runs," smiled Molina, after going 3-for-4 with a homerun and three runs batted in.

Bengie has always played the game with the rare combination of both pride and humility. He never sought the spotlight, but it always found him just the same. I never felt like he was ever overwhelmed by any situation. Most of all I always viewed him as a “clutch” player.

Now, I know some sabermetric types and other baseball folk believe there is no such thing as “clutch hitting,” but as long as this game isn’t being played by robots or computers, I will always disagree. Baseball players are human beings with emotions and voices in their heads that speak to them all the time. You can’t tell me that some players don’t thrive in the “big” moment or game. You can’t convince me that some athletes have a tendency to tense up when the lights are at their brightest and the stage is at its biggest.

Some people want the bat (or ball) in their hands when the game is on the line and some don’t. That doesn’t mean they’re going to succeed all the time; it just means that the moment isn’t too big for them. It’s not something you can necessarilly measure or even project, but it’s often very evident.

Maybe I’m romanticizing the game too much here.

Well, baseball will do that to you. Every big play has the ability to flood your mind with memories, thoughts, emotions and so much more. Baseball is about indelible moments and although it’s easy to get lost in the statistics and numbers associated with the game, it’s those walk off homeruns and suicide squeezes that you remember most. And when certain players seem to step up and deliver in key situations time after time, you remember them for being “clutch.” Imagined or real? It really doesn’t matter.

Watching Bengie Molina last night took me back. It took me back to a time when he was an Angel. I always believed he had the ability to soak in a moment, take a deep breath, settle himself and if necessary – his teammates’ nerves and get down to business. He was always had a calm and steady presence and I’ve always considered him to be a great leader. He’s not necessarily a” raw, raw” type; he just leads by example.

A lot of conversations will take place between now and next season about what a great addition Cliff Lee was to the Rangers’ rotation and rightly so. It should also be noted that adding Molina to the Rangers club house was just as big. He’s that veteran presence that’s been here before and he never gets too high or too low.

Molina also knows full well about the mind set needed to take down a Yankee club in the post season; having lived that experience as an Angel. He knows no fear.

I find it interesting that he could end up in the World Series facing the team that basically gave him away to clear a spot for the potential National League Rookie of the Year; Buster Posey. I would bet Bengie finds that thought more than just interesting. I would bet that the way he was pushed aside hurt just a tad.

Seems to me that during his free agency years he's frequently the guy no team really wants to sign, but ends up being the guy everyone loves to have on their tea. Even still, though he constantly exceeds expectations; he's also taken for granted. He's kind of an after thought, but one that pays off big in the end.

Remember, this is a man with tremendous pride; at least that’s what I’ve gathered after watching him for all these years as a fan. Now, I don’t know Bengie personally and my only interactions with him have come at spring training or before games when he would warm up down by the bull pen and interact with fans, but the impression I always got was that this is a man who plays with confidence and has his own quiet swagger about him.

Everytime I think about him I keep coming back to his pride and humility.

Take the 2006 season when he played for the Toronto Blue Jays. On May 16 of that year his Blue Jays lost to the Angels 8-3, but the thing that probably stung Bengie the most was that Jose Molina (his brother) stole a base against him.

The next night, Bengie tried to return the favor, but was thrown out by Jose. One can only imagine the post game conversation those two might have afterwards. I’m sure Bengie didn’t like being upstaged by his brother, but at the same time I would also believe he got a good laugh out of the whole thing.

He also got the last laugh.

Apparently he didn’t forget that night in May because a few months later on September 9 Bengie got his revenge and stole a base against Jose. Justice was served and order was restored within the Molina family.

Interestingly both Molina’s had only stolen one base all year; not only that, neither tried to steal a base against anyone else the rest of the year.

It was vintage Bengie.

I even loved the way he interacted with fans. He was always kind, cordial and accommodating. He never “big leagued” anyone. He always made time for as many people as possible. There’s something endearing about a guy who’s always approachable and seems to be the same person regardless of whether he’s signing autographs or launching bombs into the outfield stands.

I can even remember a potentially volatile situation at a spring training game in Tempe after the 2002 season. A few of the players were gathered at the tunnel that leads from the field to the club house. Frankie Rodriguez said something that offended a fan who was trying to get someone’s autograph. I don’t know what he said, but I remember this fan going off and saying some things in a pretty angry tone. Frankie looked a little shell shocked, but Bengie was there and gave the fan a “come on man, you’re not serious” look. He said a few things to defuse the situation and everyone walked away just fine.

Bengie has always had a way of putting people at ease; be it on the field or off it. It’s one of the things I love about him.

You see, every memory I have of Bengie is a good one. Last night, he gave me one more.

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