Growing Up True Blue : Oldest Four Sons of Dodgers’ Mota Make Baseball Their Chosen Field
It is the year 2000. Antonio Mota makes his debut with the Dodgers and the game is halted for a ceremony. None of his five brothers can attend because they are each in a different city playing major league baseball.
And that’s the reason for the festivities: Antonio’s appearance marks the first time six brothers have played in the big leagues, breaking the record of five, set by Ed, Frank, Jim, Joe and Tom Delahanty from 1888-1907.
It’s a once-in-a-century possibility, that’s for certain.
The eldest Motas--Jose, Andy, Domingo and Gary--are advancing through the farm systems of the San Diego Padres, Houston Astros and Dodgers. Rafael, 16, says he would rather become a pilot, but Andy, a top Astro prospect, also shunned baseball until he began college. Antonio, 12, “might turn out to be the best of all,” according to Manny Mota, the boys’ father and a member of the Dodger organization for 21 years. Mota now handles special assignments for the club.
Summers spent at Dodger Stadium gave the Mota youngsters an invaluable head start. And when it came to talent, even the children of other major leaguers couldn’t match the Mota quota.
“In family games, there was no comparison with the other kids,” said Bill Russell, a Dodger player from 1969-86 and now a Dodger coach. “The Motas always hit the farthest and the hardest.”
Once the school year in the Dominican Republic ended, Manny’s wife, Margarita, would haul the couple’s eight children (there are two girls: Cecilia, 27, and Maria, 18) to the family’s California home in La Crescenta.
“Oh, man, that was like a reward for doing good in school,” recalls Jose, the oldest of the Mota brothers. “It was special because we got to spend time with Dad.”
Not to mention clowning with Bob Welch, taking batting practice with Pedro Guerrero and fielding ground balls with Davey Lopes. The Mota boys were
well-liked by all.
“They looked like a staircase walking around here, one after another,” recalled former Dodger Dusty Baker, now a coach with the San Francisco Giants. “They were as much part of the team as the guys were. Manny always enjoyed that.”
His sons’ steady climb up the baseball ladder brings Manny continued delight. He telephones each son twice a week.
“They know what it takes to be a major league ballplayer,” Manny said. “They see how others prepare and work. They all have the tools, and they all have their own styles.”
None of the Mota boys are clones of their father, a former outfielder who batted .304 over a 20-year career and whose 150 pinch-hits are a major league record. In fact, their differences are striking.
The smoothest is Jose; the steadiest, Andy; the most aggressive, Domingo; the most gifted, Gary.
A sketch of each:
Ht: 5-9 Age: 25 Wt: 165
Versatile and resilient, Jose has survived five organizations in six years as a minor leaguer. He played three years at Cal State Fullerton before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 1985 after his junior year.
He is batting .279 in 77 games for the Las Vegas Stars, the triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. He has played shortstop, third base, second base, outfield and served as a designated hitter this season.
“The Padres are very pleased with him,” Manny said. “I believe his versatility will help him get to the major leagues.”
The only switch-hitter in the family, Jose learned to bat left-handed in the cage adjoining the Dodger clubhouse.
“I used to spend five straight innings hitting nonstop in that cage every day of the summer,” Jose said. “My dad would take a glance at me once in a while.”
The closeness of the Mota clan is preserved primarily by Jose, who keeps regular contact with his brothers. His mother and sister Cecilia drove to Las Vegas last week to visit Jose, his wife, Marie, and their one-year-old son, Joey.
“Manny called us every day he was on the road for 27 years, every single day,” Margarita said. “Jose shows that same commitment to family.”
Jose shows appreciation by dedicating himself to what amounts to the family business--baseball.
“God bless our parents, they gave us the best foundation possible,” he said. “Playing the game to the best of our ability is a way of us admiring them.”
ANDY MOTA Ht: 5-10 1/2 Age: 24 Wt: 180
Andy led Class-A leagues in hits the past two seasons, but his value to the Houston Astros extends beyond his playing ability. Andujar Cedeno, the Astros’ most touted prospect, plays shortstop for the double-A Columbus (Ga.) Mudcats. Mota is the second baseman.
“Andujar is a crude, out-of-control player at this point, and Andy has a wonderful calming effect on him,” said Fred Nelson, the Astros’ minor league director. “He’s almost an on-the-spot coach.”
Nelson said that Mota had a chance to be promoted to the Astros when rosters expand in September, but he suffered a jammed thumb last week and is sidelined for the season. “He’s making a lot of progress,” Nelson said. “His bat is his main strength, and he’s an excellent baserunner.”
Quiet and reserved, Andy was only mildly interested in baseball as a youngster. “I really didn’t play the game full-time until my first year of college,” said Andy, who played at Cal State Fullerton and two Orange County junior colleges before signing in 1987. “I was more of a student than a player.”
Which is how he is remembered by former Dodgers.
“Andy surprises me some with how well he is doing,” said Baker, a Dodger from 1976-83. “He was the sensitive one. He liked to read a lot.”
Nevertheless, Andy enjoyed his time as a Dodger bat boy. Earlier this season, 41-year-old left-hander Jerry Reuss pitched at Columbus for a short time. The two of them laughed about how Andy used to get Reuss water between innings when he was pitching for the Dodgers.
These days, Andy helps his pitchers with offense; he is batting .305 in four minor league seasons, including a .286 average with 11 home runs and 62 runs batted in this year.
DOMINGO MOTA Ht: 5-9 Age: 21 Wt: 175
Domingo was drafted by the Dodgers in June after helping Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series. An outfielder during his only season with the Titans, he is learning to play second base with the Dodgers’ rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate in Kissimmee, Fla.
“He’s the type of hitter the Dodgers want at second, a line drive guy who runs good,” Manny Mota said.
Speed and intensity mark Domingo’s style. He led Fullerton with 19 stolen bases and tied a school record by being hit by pitches 11 times. In two years at Canada College in Redwood City, Calif., he batted .337 with 34 stolen bases.
Besides salsa music, baseball is Domingo’s only interest. “He has always been baseball crazy, I mean crazy ,” Jose Mota said.
The obvious advantages of growing up around Dodgers made Domingo smart at an early age. In fact, he was player-coach on the Calasanz High team in Santa Domingo his senior year. “Domingo is a student of the game,” Manny said.
Lately, his tutor has been Reggie Smith, the Dodgers’ minor league batting instructor and, of course, a longtime acquaintance. Smith played for the Dodgers from 1976-81.
“Reggie has shown a special interest in Domingo, and it is a very comfortable relationship,” Manny said. “Reggie knows Domingo; Domingo knows Reggie.”
Results have been immediate: Domingo is batting .386 with 49 hits in 37 games. “Every night, I get a readout that tells me how he did,” Manny said.
GARY MOTA Ht: 6-2 Age: 19 Wt: 200
Insecurity has never been a problem for Gary, the tallest and strongest of the Mota brothers. He has been reminded since childhood that he is something special on a ballfield--his godfather is Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda.
Not only is he a Mota, he’s a big Mota. And he’s a Mota with money, having signed for a reported $140,000 after being picked by Houston in the second round of this year’s draft.
“I kind of knew, how should I say this, that I had the best overall tools in the family,” Gary said with an easy laugh. “A couple of years ago, I started really growing and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going on?’ But there is nothing fat. It’s all muscles.”
Less honed is his swing. Gary has power--he has 15 extra-base hits in 44 games at Auburn (N.Y.) of the Class-A New York-Penn League--but he has 51 strikeouts and only 11 walks.
“He has the problems of selectivity and contact you see with a lot of young power hitters,” Nelson said. “But, geez, when you break down his tools, he’s impressive.”
A right fielder, Gary possesses great arm strength and excellent speed. He is also inquisitive.
“I spent more time with Gary than any of my brothers,” Jose said. “He’s very open and is always asking questions.”
Or taking cuts. As did Jose, Gary spent hours each day in the Dodger batting cage as a youngster. When it came time for Dodger family games, he was eager.
“Each kid got to bat maybe twice, but I always wanted to hit 10 times,” Gary said. “I’d sneak back up to the plate as often as I could.”
Now he is getting paid to bat as often as he can.
“I want to get to the ‘Show’ so bad,” he said. “I have the desire inside me.”
Have patience, Manny and Margarita Mota preach to their sons scattered around four corners of the bush leagues. It is a virtue they learned long ago.
“I tell them that all things come at their proper time,” said Manny, who spent seven seasons in the minors before sticking for good with the San Francisco Giants in 1963.
Margarita Mota watched a teen-age Manny walk past her house in Santa Domingo for five years before he began courting her. “We lived in the same neighborhood, but he would never talk to me,” Margarita said. “I think he was afraid of my mother, and it wasn’t until she died that he approached me.”
It is with that same trepidation that Manny raises the topic of baseball with his children.
“Manny didn’t push any of his sons into baseball,” said Ron Cey, a Dodger from 1971-82. “They are just the natural product of their environment.”
Whether Rafael and Antonio, the youngest Mota boys, make the diamond their chosen field is unimportant to their parents. That the oldest four boys have done so, however, brings them great pleasure.
“I know they have that wish and dream to play in the big leagues,” Manny said. “I hope their dream comes true.”