Souhan: Molitor shows life can be rewarding after the cheering stops

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2013 - 12:28 PM
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Former Twins Tony Oliva, Roy Smalley, and Paul Molitor posed for a photo with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig after the 2014 All-Star Game announcement was made.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Paul Molitor had just finished working with Twins players at spring training. A St. Paul native who attended Cretin High and the University of Minnesota, collected his 3,000th hit as a Twin and still works in the organization, Molitor is a uniquely Minnesotan star, a Hall of Famer who skinned his elbows on diamonds all over the state.

He's also 56, and aware of the voluminous coverage of Michael Jordan's 50th birthday this weekend, which included an ESPN feature portraying Jordan's post-playing melancholy.

Is that heightened sense of loss universal among great former athletes?

"I don't know if anybody really looks forward to 50, 60, 70, but you have to try to find a way to stay in the moment," he said by phone from Fort Myers, Fla. "You just have to try to adjust to the reality of it. I'm more of a realist than an emotionalist about it. The physical retirement and the emotional retirement don't necessarily come at the same time, but at some point, there has to be a letting-go.

"I'm closer to 60 than 50 right now. I certainly hope I'm over turning 50. I'm blessed. I have young kids. I have a lot to keep me going."

Molitor's athletic intellect matched and elevated his talent. When he retired in 1998, people in the game argued whether he would become a general manager, manager or broadcaster. He worked as a big-league coach before settling into a "special assistant" role with the front office that includes minor league and spring training instruction.

This week he's been working alongside Twins greats Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.

"Invariably, somehow your career comes up, or Rod's or Tony's, and you realize how long it's been since you played," Molitor said. "When I go out to speak, however rarely, I'm mindful of having heard older players talk about their playing days and at some point it's not very interesting anymore. Time has gone by and things have happened. I don't want to be one of those guys who talks about what people really don't want to hear about anymore."

Do minor leaguers snap to attention when he enters the clubhouse?

"Not often," he said. "It's not that kids aren't respectful or that the Twins don't try to educate them, but a lot of them just don't know. Some players might catch the MLB highlights from 20 years ago, or a top 10 list, and they'll be like, 'I didn't realize you did such-and-such.' It reminds you that the game keeps moving. You realize you had your place at one time, but that loses relevance."

Molitor sounds more matter-of-fact than regretful. He also sounds like he wants more. Last year he was thought to be a logical addition to the Twins' revamped coaching staff, but General Manager Terry Ryan kept him in the same role and hired fellow former Gophers baseball player Terry Steinbach as Ron Gardenhire's bench coach.

"I can't say I've had a ton of options," he said. "The years more close to my retirement, I had more opportunities to interview and look at various possibilities. Every year you reevaluate how long do you want to work, and 'Do I still have the passion to teach?' I still really want to be around the game. The measure of commitment depends on the opportunity.

"I'm not closing any doors, but I'm content in what I'm doing."

He's living as close to a normal life as anyone in baseball, getting to raise his kids in his home state.

"I've got a figure skater, and my son can pretty much do just about anything -- not that I'm biased," he said of Julia, 9, and Benjamin, 6. "My son is a pretty athletic little dude."

So is he happy? Has he, unlike Jordan and so many former stars, found a way to live in this moment, rather than in those captured on film?

"For the most part, the Twins have given me an opportunity to have a lot of flexibility in the job they want me to do, which has given me the opportunity to be present as a father," Molitor said. "It's been great.

"I'm hoping someday before I retire, I can have a Twins World Series ring. I don't know what role it would be in, minor league instructor or whatever. I've been with them longer than I was with the Brewers, so there's gratitude there.

"To answer your question, am I happy? Yeah. Life is good for me."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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