The nameplate over Jose Mota’s cubicle is blank, lending a temporary feeling to his space in the San Diego Padres’ clubhouse, but the former Cal State Fullerton second baseman doesn’t mind.
“I don’t care. I’m just happy to be here,” said Mota, son of former Dodger pinch-hitting great Manny Mota and the brother of many Motas. “If I keep working hard, hopefully they’ll put my name up. Time will tell.”
Time isn’t on Mota’s side. Tim Teufel was acquired in a trade from the New York Mets last Friday and was playing second base by Saturday, ending Mota’s string of eight consecutive starts at the position.
And another Padre second baseman, Paul Faries, is due to come off the disabled list Friday, meaning Mota could soon find himself back on the other end of Interstate 15, in triple-A Las Vegas.
It would be another in a long series of moves for Mota, the first of four baseball-playing Mota sons to reach the major leagues, but he’s grown accustomed to a transitory life style.
In only his seventh season of professional baseball, Mota, 26, has played for five organizations in 10 cities.
No matter where he parks, he has learned to keep the Mota running.
“My dad said to never get too comfortable with one place, because you could be gone,” said Mota, one of eight children. “It’s hard to make friends in baseball, not because people aren’t nice but because the game’s so unpredictable.”
Mota may lead the league in forwarding addresses. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox after three years (1983-85) at Cal State Fullerton, where he hit .347 with 47 runs batted in in 1984 and helped the Titans win the College World Series. Mota spent most of the 1985 season at Class-A Niagara Falls and a short stint at triple-A Buffalo.
Mota, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound switch-hitter, was traded to Texas in the off-season, played in 1986 at double-A Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City and started 1987 at Tulsa. He was traded to the Dodgers in June, closed out the season at double-A San Antonio, and spent 1988 at San Antonio and triple-A Albuquerque.
Mota was selected by Oakland in the following winter’s Rule V Draft but played only 27 games at double-A Huntsville, Ala., before being traded to the Padres. He finished the 1989 season at double-A Wichita and played the entire 1990 season at Las Vegas, batting .300 with 44 runs and 21 RBIs.
He was hitting .309 when the Padres called him up May 24 and, in nine major league games, is batting .259 with two RBIs. His best game was last Thursday, when he hit a two-out, two-run single to help San Diego beat Houston, 4-0. But Mota has had problems defensively, committing three errors.
Two weeks is hardly enough time to make friends, but Mota, whose brothers Domingo (Dodgers), Andy and Gary (Houston) are in the minor leagues, has gained some admirers in San Diego. Padre coaches have been impressed with his work habits and attitude.
“He has an outstanding personality--he’s everything you hope a player could be,” Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said. “He has an excellent work ethic and he’s very upbeat. If I didn’t tell him to stop, he’d keep taking grounders.”
Added first base coach Rob Picciolo, a former major league infielder: “He studies the game and he’s very conscientious about his work habits. He asks intelligent questions, which you want from an infielder.”
Mota has a .281 lifetime batting average in the minors and is an excellent bunter with good speed. He’s a solid if not flashy defensive player, and he’s developed a reputation as a hard worker. Which all leads to one obvious question: Why has he been traded so many times?
Mota, who holds Fullerton’s career triples record with 10, doesn’t know, but he also doesn’t view trades as being negative.
“I’ve never felt unwanted and I seem to do well everywhere I go,” Mota said. “I was always very positive when I got traded. I saw it as a new beginning.”
Picciolo said there are two ways to look at trades.
“You could see it as someone doesn’t want me or someone does,” he said. “I think Jose is finding out now that he has some value.”
He has always had the name, and with that came certain advantages. While his father was playing with--and later coaching for--the Dodgers, Jose spent five summers as a Dodger batboy.
He’ll never forget his first day on the job. He was 12 and the Dodgers were in San Diego, and Jose was sitting behind the on-deck circle, where Steve Yeager was preparing to hit.
A pitch to Bill Russell snapped Russell’s bat in half, and the head of the bat flew toward the on-deck circle and struck Yeager in the neck. The former catcher was sent to the hospital with a wound that wasn’t considered serious but was within fractions of being life-threatening, according to doctors.
“That thing could have hit me,” Mota said. “It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how fortunate I was. My dad said things like that don’t usually happen, but sometimes they do, so you have to always keep your eye on the ball.”
It wasn’t the only tip Mota received in five summers as a Dodger batboy. When he wasn’t taking infield lessons from Russell and Davey Lopes, he and his brothers were usually in the batting cage getting instruction from their father, a Pittsburgh Pirate standout in the mid-1960s who holds the major league record for career pinch-hits (150).
Jose was the envy of his classmates back in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and his teammates in Southern California summer youth leagues.
“I was fortunate to see how big-leaguers got ready for games, especially successful guys like Ron Cey and Steve Garvey,” Mota said. “It was a little edge we had, but we never took it for granted. We knew how many kids were dying to be doing what we were doing.”
When Mota was a kid, he knew he wanted to do what the big-leaguers were doing. Now he is, but he’s not sure for how long.
“This has been a life-long dream since I was running around Dodger Stadium as a kid,” said Mota, who is married and has a 2-year-old son. “I don’t have any control over what will happen here. I’ll just try to do my job when I’m in the lineup.”
And, he hopes, make a nameplate for himself.