Worth Giving: MLB’s Molina Brothers Pay it Forward
In Dorado, Puerto Rico, Benjamin Molina Sr. was a baseball hero. A former factory worker, he was a second baseman who was inducted into the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame and had a shot at a career in the States. But he stepped away when his wife, Gladys, became pregnant with their first son, Bengie.
Bengie and his brothers, José and Yadier, first played baseball with their dad on a dirt field he built in Dorado with nothing but a backstop. Benjamin Sr. began coaching them when they were in preschool and encouraged them to become catchers. Catching, he said, would allow them to “enable greatness” in other players. Today, each of the three brothers has two World Series rings as MLB catchers.
In 2008, at just 58, Benjamin Molina Sr. died suddenly of a heart attack on that dirt field. Four years later, his three sons honored him by renovating and transforming their childhood training ground into a $1 million baseball field replete with real sod, a drainage system and lights.
Bengie, 42, who played with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, and José, 41, who played with the Chicago Cubs, the Angels, the New York Yankees, the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays, are now retired from baseball. Yadier, 34, has been playing his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals. According to the Baseball Reference website, Bengie earned more than $33 million over the course of his career, José just over $20 million and Yadier has already earned nearly $81 million. Their good fortune has inspired them to give back to children, just as their father gave to them.
I spoke with Bengie Molina and his wife, Jamie, who was once a Boys and Girls Club counselor, about how and why they give.
What is the philosophy behind your giving?
Jamie: Yadier, José, Bengie and I, we all love helping kids in any way that we can. We were inspired by Benjamin Molina, who was such an incredible example of a dad. Pretty much everything in his life revolved around his boys—but not just them, the whole community of kids—and making sure that they were safe.
Does each of the three brothers manage his own giving?
Jamie: We do our individual things, but we came together as a family to do the baseball field. Jamin [Benjamin Sr.] built that field all by himself, with the help of his friends and relatives. He managed it his entire life, and he actually passed away on that field helping kids in 2008.
At that point, it was really run down and had big ruts in it and electric poles right in the middle of the outfield. Kids would run into them and hurt themselves. Yadier, Bengie and José all gave money to put down real grass, with a nice outfield. There are batting cages, they added nicer sand, put in bathrooms.
Bengie: My dad put so many hours and so much time into helping kids and making sure that they grew into good men. He didn’t even want them to be professionals—he just wanted them to be real good human beings, the man of the family, men who go to work and then play baseball.
How did baseball begin with your family?
Bengie: My grandfather was a catcher for a very short time. My dad played at 14 years old. He played on an amateur men’s league, and he made the amateur baseball hall of fame, the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame. Then he was inducted into the Little League Hall of Fame [as a coach]. He’d put a glove into our hands, me first, when we turned 3 years old. That is how we started to feel the baseball.
Did you love it right away?
Bengie: You just get excited because your dad is the baseball player. You see him play, you see how well he’s doing and you get so excited, people cheering every time he goes to bat or every time he gets a double. I think that’s how you start your love for the game—just watching.
Was that the same for your brothers?
Bengie: Yes. I started playing in real games when I was 5. José was coming right behind. I’m like, wow, I’m sure he’s looking at me; I’m sure he’s watching me. All of a sudden I’m playing Little League, and before you know it, he’s starting his own career as a Little Leaguer. All we talked about in our house was baseball. All we did was watch baseball. My dad talked nonstop about how you’ve got to hit, how you’ve got to run the bases, how you’ve got to bunt the ball, things like that. It became 24/7 for us.
Why didn’t he become a professional? He could have, right?
Bengie: He had a chance—he had a big chance. From what I’ve heard he was one of the best players of his time. He had a tryout for the Milwaukee Brewers, and everybody thought he was going to sign. My mom was pregnant with me, but everybody thought he was going to go to the United States and try his luck. All of a sudden, he was a no-show. Everybody’s like, “What the heck? Jamin didn’t show up for a tryout?”
He wanted to stay home. He wanted to raise me. He didn’t want to leave my mom.
“If I was born again, I would hope God tells me, ‘You’ve got to be a catcher, buddy.'”
It’s unusual for three brothers to be at the level where they could all play pro ball. That you would all be catchers is also unusual. Why catchers?
Bengie: If I was born again, I would hope God tells me, “You’ve got to be a catcher, buddy.” The reason is that I felt like I was the dad, and I felt like my pitchers were my sons. I wanted to give 150 percent to those guys. I wanted them to have good careers, all of them. I wanted to take care of them. I knew they had families, sons and daughters. I knew they wanted a contract. I knew they wanted to make money so they could live really good after baseball. That’s why I love the position—because you have so many ways to touch lives.
And if you ask my brothers, they’ll tell you the same.
That’s why your philanthropy is centered around children?
Bengie: Every time I talk to kids anywhere—in Puerto Rico or the United States or wherever we are—I always try to end with the little saying that my dad used to say to us at the end of every practice and every game: “It doesn’t matter how many houses you have. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank. It doesn’t matter how good you are. It doesn’t matter how many cars or anything like that. What matters in this life is how many lives can you touch?”
“He sacrificed his life for us. So let’s go back and do our sacrifice ourselves.”
What organizations benefit from your giving?
Bengie: Also, in Mexico we have a friend who has a charity, but we don’t want to say the name because we don’t like to take credit. He tells me, “I’ve got this charity, hermano, give me a hand. We’re trying to feed some kids because they don’t have anything to eat, or blankets or clothes or shoes.”
Jamie: They’re digging through the garbage looking for food.
Bengie: Yeah, and then we gather stuff, put it in bags and give it to him, and he goes and gives them away…
Jamie: We’re always giving them money.
Bengie: Yes. And then we take care of high schools that need catching gear, for example, colleges that need equipment…
So your giving isn’t just in Puerto Rico?
Bengie: He has a foundation [the International Surgical Foundation] that we help.
Jamie: If there’s an emergency in the world, like the earthquake in Haiti or a tsunami, and a bunch of kids are hurt, he flies there and does free surgeries on any children that have a spine injury, or those that become crippled because of scoliosis or a spine disorder. He does the whole surgery for free. That’s a $500,000 surgery for one kid, and he’s got places in the Bahamas, Bermuda, Dominican Republic and Haiti. We help him every year to raise money, and we donate a bunch of stuff to help his spine surgeries.
Let’s go back to the baseball field in Puerto Rico. Where exactly is it?
Bengie: Right in front of the house that I grew up in, in Dorado.
Dorado’s a small place. It must be amazing sometimes to see how you’ve been able to build something so meaningful in your own hometown.
Bengie: It’s crazy cool to see kids having a better field than my brothers and I did. Many kids are going to be able to use it for years.
What made this particular project special?
Bengie: My dad went to work at 5 a.m., came back home at 4, and then, after an hour, he worked on the field until 10 p.m. He sacrificed his life for us. So let’s go back and do our sacrifice ourselves.
Jamie: Having kids come and play…it’s like a part of him is still right there on the field.
—With Rose Arce