“Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty” was published in 2015, but as 2020 draws to a close I can safely say it has been the best baseball book I have read this year.
From the title, one can be forgiven for expecting the book to be about the three Molina brothers huddled around their father as he provides them with the insights that will allow all three to become major league catchers. Instead, this is a deeply personal book about Bengie Molina’s growth into a man and how his relationship with his father drove him, both in baseball and his personal life.
Bengie’s brothers Jose Molina (called Cheo) and Yadier Molina feature prominently in the story, but this is clearly Bengie’s story to tell, and with the assistance of co-author Joan Ryan, he does it remarkably well. Bengie takes readers to his childhood in Puerto Rico, where his family lived paycheck-to-paycheck and his father Benjamin was a widely beloved figure in the local baseball community.
Using the baseball field located across the street, the quiet and hard-working Benjamin taught his boys the game. Surprisingly, Bengie played every position on the field except for catcher as he was growing up. Driven to be one of the great Puerto Rican baseball players like his father and to live his father’s dream of playing in the majors, Bengie struggled to attract the attention of scouts. It wasn’t until he had already gone undrafted following two years of junior college baseball and was about to call it quits that a scout suggested he show what he could do at catcher. It became the beginning of an arduous journey through the minor leagues.
Bengie doesn’t pull any punches in telling his story. He discusses his insecurities and fears – particularly his fear of disappointing his father. Through the course of the story, Benjamin plays a central role, and the book is a fascinating character study of Bengie’s father and the ways in which his father’s life impacted his own. Benjamin is an honorable man throughout and beloved by his community, but is rarely openly affectionate. Instead, in many ways, he expresses his tremendous love for his sons through baseball and by setting a quiet example. For the sensitive Bengie, this only increases his drive to succeed on the diamond.
After Bengie makes it to the majors, he makes a decision regarding his family that severely frays the two men’s relationship. It’s only after Benjamin visits Bengie’s family in Arizona that the two reconcile shortly before Benjamin’s passing due to a heart attack.
It takes a certain kind of courage for Bengie Molina to write a book this thoughtful and personal, one that’s truly more about his family and his heritage than about baseball. Baseball is a through line in Bengie’s relationship with his father and brothers, but as we see in “Molina,” while his relationship with his father may have relied upon baseball in many ways, it was vastly more rich and complicated.
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