Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Mike Molina, left, stands with his baseball-playing family at, where else, the ballpark. From left are wife Kelly, sons Sammy, Benji, Anthony, father Felipe, sons Anthony and Tommy.
When it comes to youth baseball in Madera, it’s difficult to find an aspect of the game that the Molina family is not involved in.
“It’s kind of just like a family tradition,” father Mike Molina said. “I played when I was a kid and now I have five boys of my own that all play. My dad coaches and my second oldest son coaches, as well.
“My brothers and sisters have their kids play baseball, too, so I guess it runs in the family.”
Madera youth baseball has been around for more than 60 seasons and is broken up into two sections: Little League and travel baseball. The Little League is divided into American and National leagues, based on which part of town the players live in.
The travel league incorporates all of the best players in town. Molina is both coach and manager of the South County Colts travel team. The Colts were established in 2008 and field both an 11 and 12-year-old team and sponsors a team in the Madera American Little League.
“Little League is for more fun and participation,” Molina said. “There are a set amount of games and everyone plays. It’s for friends to play each other, all fun basically. The travel league consists of all-stars from the area. It’s a lot more competitive. I prefer to coach the travel kids because they all want to be out there and get better. The kids take it more serious.”
In 2016, the Madera American Little League 11-12-year-old all-star team won its first Section Tournament title in the league’s history. When asked about the moment, Molina stated his bewilderment at the accomplishment.
“Our Little League all-star team won the section title last year, but we had a majority of travel players,” Molina said. “These boys have been playing well with each other for years, since they were 8 or 9. “It was awesome, I didn’t know we’ve never done it till after the game. It was a proud moment for the team.”
Molina’s coaching style is very relaxed but also strict at the same time. Molina learned some of his methods from numerous coaches who worked and continue to work with him: Steve Gallegos, Lance Leach and Bo Bertoncini. Molina said his father, Felipe Molina, 57, a retired correctional officer and now a coach, was one of his major influences.
“My style is more laid- back,” Molina said. “I guess it’s a mixture of a strict also. We coach to be proactive by doing trick plays or steal bases to get some excitement going. The crowds enjoy how we play.”
Felipe Molina later shared the same philosophy.
“I’ve been a part of the coaching staff for about four years,” Felipe Molina said. “We coach with a real proactive style. You can call it aggressive but we try and get our teams ready.”
While Felipe and Mike talk coaching philosophy, Mike’s 11-year-old son, Benji, sees things simpler.
Benji earned his All-American honors after he tried out for the United States Specialty Sports Association team in 2016. The USSSA selects the best players in the country and groups them up by region for the All American Games, which are competitive tournament held in the summer. Benji made the cut in two positions.
Benji stated having fun was a main reason for his success in the sport.
“I like to play because I get to see my friends and baseball is fun,” Molina said. “I was an All-American last year as a pitcher and at third base. I want to be a baseball player in the future.”
Mike Molina’s laid-back and instructive coaching style benefits both on and off the field. Molina’s dedication to the youth of Madera is evident in his passion for not only the game but for the experiences that come along with it.
Molina stated being together with all the players is important for the team. Spending the night in hotels and eating together in restaurants, and showing the kids around town benefits them off the diamond. Whenever the team is in the Bay Area, the players like to explore and live outside of what they are used to.
“When we go out and travel, we experience it more than just on the field,” Molina said. “If we go somewhere we try to give the kids experiences that they wouldn’t normally have.
“Sometimes the kids get a chance to do something they normally couldn’t on top of playing baseball, so it’s fun for us also.”
Nugesse Ghebrendrias is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.