Beltran, Molina return to camp proud of Team PR
Puerto Rico lost to the Dominicans in the World Baseball Classic final on Tuesday
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina reported back to the Cardinals' Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday morning, still proud of what they accomplished with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and still pleased to have been a part of their country's first trip to the final round.
But after nine games in three cities, bouts with the flu, a cross-country flight from Miami to San Francisco and another one back home after the championship game loss to the Dominican Republic, they couldn't help but feel a little worn out.
"You don't think about it while you're there, but now that it's over, you realize, wow, we really sacrificed ourselves a lot," said Beltran, who hit just .188 in the Classic but played in all nine games. "We're proud of that because we did it for our country, for our people. We're happy with the outcome."
The Classic ended Tuesday night with Puerto Rico's 3-0 loss to the Dominican at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Molina and Beltran then caught a flight back to Florida on Wednesday, got the day off Thursday to relax and went through a workout Friday morning.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said both players will be back on the field Saturday afternoon for the Cardinals, who will play the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. That's fine with Molina, who said he's eager to get ready for the season after about three weeks away with the Puerto Rican team.
Molina got in plenty of work as Puerto Rico's primary catcher -- unlike his brother Jose, who was relegated to the same backup role that Yadier filled in the first two Classics -- but said he wasn't even worried about how playing in seven of the team's nine games differed from his usual Grapefruit League routine.
"When I was there, I didn't think about Spring Training. I was thinking about winning the game, winning it for Puerto Rico," said Molina, who was named to the All-Classic Team after hitting .259 and catching a Puerto Rican pitching staff that compiled a 2.88 ERA. "Right now, I'm here, yes, and I have to think about [getting ready for the season]. But while we were there, I didn't think about Spring Training."
Instead, Molina and Beltran said, they were focused on proving that Puerto Rico could contend on an international stage without a roster full of Major League All-Stars. They also kept in mind the potential impact their deep run into the tournament would have on baseball in their home country.
Beltran, who founded the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Florida, Puerto Rico, in 2011, and Molina believe their runner-up finish will wind up having a positive effect on Puerto Rican baseball at all levels.
"First of all, the kids are going to really get into it and hopefully the league that we have there will do the right thing to promote baseball the right way," Beltran said. "I understand that there are other schools like my school in Puerto Rico where we're trying to develop ballplayers, but most importantly we're trying to create opportunities for kids to come to the United States and play baseball in college or professionals. Hopefully, everything starts going the right way."
Added Molina: "It's a great tournament. Everybody is watching, everybody is pulling for you. It's good to know that we still have it in Puerto Rico. They say we don't have a lot of talent there, but we showed people they're wrong. We showed we have plenty of talent. I feel good about what we did to show the people that we have talent down there."
Molina compared the atmosphere in the final game against the Dominican Republic to that of the World Series -- "Same feel," he said -- and added that it was "amazing" to play on the same team as Jose, his older brother, for the first time since doing so during winter ball in 2002.
The 30-year-old catcher was also partially responsible for one of the tournament's most memorable moments, though it had nothing to do with his hitting or his defense. After Rays closer Fernando Rodney saved the championship game for the Dominican Republic, Molina led a line of his Puerto Rican teammates onto the field to congratulate and shake hands with the Dominican players.
"This is not about winning or losing. It's more important to show the people that we are together. That's what we did," Molina said. "I did it because we respect each other. We respect our brothers from the Dominican. That's what we did."
They did a lot more than that for their country, of course, and both Cardinals stars felt what they accomplished was worth the exhaustion when it was all said and done.
"It takes a lot out of you, but the opportunity of representing your country, I think that's a great thing," Beltran said. "The travel, playing those types of games with the intensity that you have to play them. It really means a lot for the country that you are representing. It's fun, but you get drained."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.