07/13/09 4:00 PM ET
Molina, Franklin soaking in All-Star spotlight
Classic first-timers enjoying moment in the sun with families
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
All three Cardinals All-Stars caught a late flight from Chicago following the team's Sunday doubleheader against the Cubs, so they were a bit tired on Monday morning. But while things like All-Star media availability are old hat for eight-time All-Star Pujols, the sights and sounds are a new and eye-catching experience for the Redbirds' two first-timers. Molina was voted in by fans as a starter, while Franklin was named to the squad by manager Charlie Manuel.
For Molina, the selection to the team represents long-coveted validation of his skills as a complete player. For Franklin, it's a highlight of a long and sometimes meandering career that has seen him start and relieve, and pitch for four different teams.
They're both watching Pujols as they make their way through All-Star week, and they're both trying to take in as much as possible.
"He's played in like eight All-Star Games, so he knows what he's doing," Molina said. "He's talked to me a lot. He said, 'Hey, try to have fun,' and that's what I'm going to do."
For both of them, the experience is magnified by playing at home. They'll be introduced to their adoring home fans on Tuesday night, something that's sure to be a highlight in each man's career.
"You can't really put it in words how good a feeling it is to be able to play here," Franklin said. "And to be able to have an All-Star Game in your own backyard with the fans and everything -- it's awesome."
The Cardinals organization is the only one Molina has known. He was drafted by St. Louis in 2000, made his big league debut in '04 and last year committed to the organization long-term when he signed a four-year contract. He's one of the team's most popular players with fans, and of course was a postseason hero during the Cards' run to the '06 World Series championship.
This year, he's batting .280 with a .350 on-base percentage and a .384 slugging percentage, five homers and 30 RBIs. Molina won his first Gold Glove in 2008, but recognition as an all-around player has been slow in coming. Or at least, it's been slow in coming outside of St. Louis. Among teammates and local fans, he's long been considered an elite player, but now he's receiving the national spotlight.
"It's a new thing," Molina said. "I feel pretty good. This is fun. I'm going to try to enjoy it. It's a lot of people right now, and I'm going to try to stay calm and have fun, like Albert said."
|Ichiro Suzuki, rf|
|Derek Jeter, ss|
|Joe Mauer, c|
|Mark Teixeira, 1b|
|Jason Bay, lf|
|Josh Hamilton, cf|
|Evan Longoria, 3b|
|Aaron Hill, 2b|
|Roy Halladay, p|
|Hanley Ramirez, ss|
|Chase Utley, 2b|
|Albert Pujols, 1b|
|Ryan Braun, rf|
|Raul Ibanez, lf|
|David Wright, 3b|
|Shane Victorino, cf|
|Yadier Molina, c|
|Tim Lincecum, p|
Molina is looking forward to having several family members join him for the game, including his older brother, Jose, who catches for the Yankees. Bengie Molina, the third catching brother, stayed back in San Francisco with his wife, who is expecting.
Franklin, unlike Molina, has bounced around a bit, playing for three teams before signing with the Cardinals in 2007 with the goal of competing for a rotation spot. He was quickly shuffled to the bullpen, where he pitched effectively as a setup man in '07 -- garnering some consideration as an All-Star but missing out on the squad.
Nonetheless, he quickly felt he was in a good place in St. Louis and agreed to an extension before his first season was out. In 2008 he served as closer for a while during Jason Isringhausen's absence, but Franklin struggled in the role when Isringhausen came back from the disabled list. This year, though, Franklin emerged as a superb solution in the ninth, helping to solidify a St. Louis bullpen that has been quite effective this year.
And he's got an All-Star bid to show for it. Better still, he has his wife and kids along for the ride. As he spoke to reporters on Monday morning, Franklin's two daughters sat in his lap, taking it all in.
"It's a great, great feeling," he said. "I think they're probably eating it up right now more than I am. ... They're so excited, just loving every moment of it. It's a good feeling."
He's less sold on the spotlight than Molina is, though.
"I don't know if I like it, man," Franklin said with a smile. "I like under-the-radar. It's a lot better. But maybe it just comes with the territory. I'm not scared of it."
If he's wondering how to handle it, though, he can always turn to Pujols. The slugger has done this enough times that he's got a good idea of how to handle the game itself, and it's something he hopes to impart to his teammates.
"[I'll be] the same player that you see every day on TV," Pujols said. "Play the game hard and try to do everything that I can to help the Cardinals. I'm going to try to do the best that I can to help the National League to win."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.