ST. LOUIS — On June 3, 2004, a light-hitting, defensive-minded catcher from Puetro Rico made his debut for the St. Louis Cardinals. He went 2 for 4 in a St. Louis win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
More than 16 years later, Yadier Molina has reached a benchmark only 11 other catchers in the history of baseball can claim.
Molina notched his 2,000th career hit on Thursday against the Brewers, and the accomplishment is one worth celebrating.
For years, Molina was known as just the guy with the glove. He was the stopper behind the plate who could handle a pitching staff, pick it with the best of them and stifle the running game.
The defense was always a marvel, but opposing teams usually didn't have to worry about him when game planning against the Cardinals' lineup.
Over his first five full seasons in the big leagues, Molina averaged just 112 hits a season with a batting average of .269. Over his next five, he averaged 140 hits a season, with a batting average of .298.
With hard work and determination, Molina become more than just a glove. He became a legitimate threat at the plate, and formed a reputation as one of the most "clutch" players in baseball.
Molina's rise to respectability at the plate is somewhat comparable to another St. Louis legend. In his first nine years in the Major Leagues, Ozzie Smith hit .247, while becoming the undisputed greatest defensive shortstop in the game. But in his final 10 years, Smith hit .277 and eventually amassed 2,460 hits himself.
Of the now 12 primary catchers in baseball history with 2,000 hits, seven are in the Hall of Fame. Molina will add that to his resume soon enough. As unequivocally one of the three greatest defensive catchers of all-time, and with the counting stats to back up his career at the plate, Molina's place in history is secure.
In the long and storied history of the Cardinals, Molina is just the sixth player in franchise history to get 2,000 hits all with St. Louis. Moments like Molina's 2,000th hit are so rare. It's a shame fans didn't get to see it in person, with how much he's beloved by St. Louis.
He may very well sign a new contract and extend his storied tenure behind the plate with the Cardinals next year, because by now we know never to doubt if he has the ability and will to do something. And if he does, that roar on opening day, or whenever fans might be let back into Busch Stadium, is going to rival loudest ever.
St. Louis fans love their baseball heroes, and one of their all-time favorites has given them yet another reason to rejoice.
2,000 hits is nothing to slouch at. Molina is just the 288th player in the history of the game to do it. It's not the magical 3,000, but for a guy who grinded his way from a purely defensive player to a legit threat at the plate, and played more than 2,000 games at one of the most physically demanding positions in all of sports, it's more than impressive.