Molina welcomed into Clemente Award family

ST. LOUIS — It was just a short toss from his traditional home on the baseball diamond. Legendary Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina wasn’t behind the plate, where legions of St. Louis fans have embraced the Puerto Rican All-Star as one of their own.

For this special visit, he ventured into the second row behind home plate at Busch Stadium. Molina settled into seat B10 of the Cardinals Club, to the left of Luis Clemente, the son of Puerto Rican icon Roberto Clemente.

That’s where the eldest of The Great One’s children made a touching gesture. Luis Clemente extended his left arm over Molina’s shoulder and said, “He’s not here, but this hug is from dad to you.”

In doing so, Clemente welcomed Molina as the newest recipient of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.

“I’m very proud and honored to receive the award here,” Molina said.

Molina didn’t have the opportunity to receive the award when it was presented at Fenway Park during last year’s World Series, as is the norm. Molina’s wife Wanda received it for him because he was managing the Puerto Rican national team at the Under-23 Baseball World Cup in Colombia.

So, the Cardinals, along with Clemente and Molina’s wife Wanda, coordinated Friday night’s event during St. Louis’ game against the Pirates — Roberto Clemente’s former team.

When Molina learned that he had won the award last year, he immediately gathered his team.

“We’re going to have a party,” Molina told his team. “I’ve received a lot of awards, but none, as I tell my wife, are like this one. This award fills me with pride and passion. I’m so happy to receive this award.”

The Cardinals — who have the most Roberto Clemente Award winners with five — had a pregame ceremony. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr., team president Bill Dewitt III and Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith joined Clemente, Molina and his family.

The Cardinals listed off Molina’s actions in helping his home of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and then played videos of former teammates and winners Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltrán congratulating him.

Fellow Boricua Joey Cora, the Pirates’ third base coach, took in the special celebration.

“It’s a tremendous honor to receive the Roberto Clemente award for any major leaguer,” said Cora, the older brother of Boston Red Sox manager Alex. “When they receive the award they’re really proud. But, for a fellow Boricua to take the award, I don’t know how to say it, but it fills our hearts a little bit more.”

The Cardinals capped the night off with a giveaway of a dual bobblehead featuring Roberto Clemente and Molina carrying a Puerto Rican flag.

The flag on the bobblehead “means everything,” Molina said. “It represents everything. Having a bobblehead with Roberto Clemente, it puts it on the top of the list. I have no doubt it’ll be one of the more recognized bobbleheads in the world.”

Featured Image: La Vida Baseball

Inset Images: La Vida Baseball