JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Yadier Molina is back, and both he and the St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t be happier.
After missing the first week of camp for personal reasons, the 39-year-old Molina arrived at the Cardinals’ complex on Monday for what will likely be his final spring training.
“It’s been tough the last couple of months but everything is all right right now,” Molina said. “I’m happy to be back.”
When St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol welcomed Molina back during a closed team meeting, the cheers and applause from his teammates could be heard outside the concrete building.
Prior to that, a grinning Molina couldn’t take more than a handful of steps without a different teammate walking over to embrace him,
“I’m already on my third hug completed, just a few minutes ago,” pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “Probably going to head over there for four here in just a minute. Pretty excited my buddy’s back.”
With 20 starts together this season, Wainwright and Molina will have 325 as a battery, breaking the major league record held by former Detroit Tigers players Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan.
When Marmol, a rookie manger, writes Molina’s name on the lineup card for the first time, he’ll be inserting a 10-time gold glover and nine-time all-star behind the plate. He’ll also have an unquestioned team leader on the field.
“He’s an extremely big part of what we do here, this overall culture,” Marmol said. “Him walking through those doors means a lot.”
Molina knew he would be late to camp for some time, but couldn’t inform the Cardinals because of the lockout rules banning communication between teams and players.
“I would like to have been here since Day 1, but they understand my situation,” Molina said. “They are happy for me to be back. I’m happy to see them, too.”
Molina had been been working out during the off-season, but still expects to need a couple days to get back into baseball shape. It could take even longer until he feels comfortable at the plate against major league pitchers.
“That’s going to be a tough one,” he said.
Molina did don his Cardinals practice uniform and head to the back fields for St. Louis’ pregame workout on Monday. He won’t be in the lineup when the Cardinals make the short drive south to face Washington later in the evening.
Molina estimated that it will take “four or five days” before he’s ready to appear in a Grapefruit League game.
“I don’t see a whole lot of challenges to be honest with you,” Marmol said. “This is a guy that, whether it’s just getting ready for spring training or injury, tends to have a really good feel for his body and overall awareness of what he needs. We’ll be sensitive to what that looks like and then jump in. It shouldn’t be an issue at all.”