Life is hard, mastering the game of Major League Baseball is harder, and understanding what makes your father tick is nearly impossible.
These are the life lessons explored in “Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty,” a memoir by Bengie Molina, with Joan Ryan. Molina, a catcher who played for the Anaheim Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants, is now first base coach and catching instructor for the Texas Rangers. His brothers Yadier and José also are major league catchers.
Molina holds two World Championship rings and two Gold Glove Awards (between the three brothers there are eight World Series appearances).
The son of Benjamin Molina Santa, a poor Puerto Rican factory worker, and his tougher-than-cleats wife Luz Maria, Bengie Molina thought of his father as “one big baseball man.” Here was a father who turned a neglected ball park across the street from their home into an oasis that “could defy space and time,” Molina writes.
The ball field was a magic and tragic place, where dreams were born and fought for; where his father at age 58 suffered a heart attack and died; where he and his brothers learned the hardship of being men while playing a game with boy-like enthusiasm and devotion.
Molina dragged worn-out car tires roped to his waist through sand and fashioned homemade barbells out of cement and soda-cracker cans to reach beyond Puerto Rican amateur teams to a post in the U.S. Eventually, on a college team in Yuma, Ariz., he began a hardscrabble life, moving to the minor leagues and finally, improbably, establishing his career. He became a MLB catcher, but remained a son troubled by a father he could not understand or relate to with ease.
With the Giants especially, Molina established his maturity as a player. Coaching “a baby face rookie named Tim Lincecum,” he assumed a fatherly role, echoing his “Pai’s” pep talks. Collectively, his career and love life reached a climax during this period. Although pushed to the brink of understanding his father, it wasn’t until several years later that Molina finally found resolution and respite in what had been staring him in the face all along: His Pai dreamed not of a baseball dynasty, but of being a good father and husband.
Throughout Molina’s 272-page book — an easy read in contrast to his often urbulent, upward climb as a ball player, husband and father — insider information appeases a baseball lover’s need for stats and strategy.
Sections devoted to the interaction between catcher and pitcher, opinions about Barry Bond’s “aura” in the Giants’ clubhouse, and Molina’s clear fondness for the Giants will please local fans.
For general-interest readers, a love quadrilateral forms the narrative’s intriguing structure: a first and second wife; his three children; his “Pai” and “Mai,” and his brothers with whom he competes. His baseball compadres also are considered.
In the end, the book is not a story about “one big baseball man,” but the tale of men who love baseball and a son who honors his father’s legacy.
Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty
By: Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
Published by: Simon & Schuster
IF YOU GO
Bengie Molina, Joan Ryan in conversation with Roy Eisenhardt
Where: Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. May 28
Tickets: $15 to $50
Note: Molina and Ryan sign copies of the book at 3:30 p.m. May 28 at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, S.F.; and 1 p.m. May 30 at Books, Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda.