JUPITER, Fla. — Yadier Molina is back, and he and the St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t be happier.
After missing the first week of camp for personal reasons, Molina, 39, arrived at the Cardinals compound on Monday for what will likely be his last spring training.
“It’s been difficult the last few months, but everything is fine now,” Molina said. “I’m glad to be back.”
When St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol welcomed Molina to a closed team meeting, cheers and applause from his teammates could be heard outside the concrete building.
Before that, a smiling Molina couldn’t take more than a handful of steps without another teammate coming up to hug her.
“I’m already on my third completed hug, just a few minutes ago,” pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “I’ll probably be heading over there for four here in a minute. Pretty excited to have my homie back.”
With 20 starts together this season, Wainwright and Molina will have 325 on their battery, breaking the major league record held by former Detroit Tigers players Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan.
When Marmol, a rookie manager, writes Molina’s name on the roster card for the first time, he will insert 10 times Gold Glover and nine times All-Star behind the plate. He will also have an undisputed team leader on the pitch.
“He’s an extremely important part of what we do here, of this overall culture,” Marmol said. “The fact that he walks through those doors means a lot.”
Molina knew he would be late to camp for a while, but was unable to notify the Cardinals due to lockdown rules prohibiting communication between teams and players.
“I would have liked to be here from day one, but they understand my situation,” Molina said. “They’re happy to have me back. I’m happy to see them too.”
Molina had practiced during the offseason, but still expects to need a few days to get back into baseball shape. It could take even longer before he feels comfortable at the plate against major league pitchers.
“It’s going to be difficult,” he said.
Molina donned his Cardinals practice uniform and headed to the backfield for St. Louis’ pregame practice on Monday. He won’t be in the lineup when the Cardinals make the short trip south to face Washington later tonight.
Molina estimated it would take “four or five days” before he was ready to appear in a Grapefruit League game.
“I don’t see a lot of challenges to be honest with you,” Marmol said. “He’s a guy who, whether it’s just getting ready for spring training or an injury, tends to have a really good sense of his body and an overall awareness of what he needs. We’ll be sensitive to what that looks like and then step in. It shouldn’t be a problem at all.