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Still Hoping : Brief Taste of Majors Leaves Jose Mota Hungry for More

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jose Mota has been there.

He made it to the major leagues twice, but all he has to show for it is 19 games and 38 at-bats.

He also has spent 11 seasons in the minors, most of the last five with Omaha, Neb., the Kansas City Royals’ triple-A team.

It has been a long, and sometimes frustrating road since his college baseball career at Cal State Fullerton ended in 1985.

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Mota, 31, can’t help wondering if time is starting to run out on his chances of getting back to Kansas City, or any major league team.

But Mota still has hope.

“I still believe in myself,” Mota said. “I’m still hoping I can get a break if a job opens in the big leagues. I’m trying to stay positive about it. Being in the minor leagues doesn’t discourage me, but I don’t want to be around just for the heck of it.”

Neither of Mota’s two opportunities in the majors worked out well.

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Mota was called up by the San Diego Padres late in the 1991 season. He played in 17 games but had only 17 at-bats and hit .222. The next season he was back in triple A after signing with the Royals as a minor league free agent.

With Omaha, Mota batted .230 in 1992, .282 in 1993 and .257 in 1994. He played in more than 100 games in each of the three years.

Then in 1995, Mota got off to a hot start, batting .409 in the first 14 games. Kansas City called him up to replace second baseman Chico Lind, who left the team without permission and was released.

But Mota was hurt in only his second game with the Royals.

In his second at-bat of his first start, Mota pulled a groin muscle breaking out of the batter’s box on a ground ball. It took him almost eight weeks to recover, and when he did, he was back in Omaha.

In Omaha, Mota has become known for his versatility, playing every infield and outfield position during his time there. This season, however, his playing time has dropped off sharply. He has been in 60 games and is hitting .232.

“I’ve become a lot more of a role player this year,” Mota said. “I have to take it that the Royals know what I can do, and they’re giving some other people opportunities.

“People in the organization tell me that, but I still think there’s a chance I can help in Kansas City if the right opportunity presents itself. I know that luck plays a big role, but I’m still doing whatever I can to open some eyes in the organization.”

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It’s a role somewhat similar to the one his father, Manny, played during the final stages of his career with the Dodgers.

“I practically grew up around the Dodger clubhouse, and I remember watching my father work hard every day just to be ready when the team needed him,” he said. “I’ve tried to do that too this season. My father always has been a big influence on me. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Manny Mota holds the major league record for career pinch hits with 150 and went on to become a coach for the Dodgers after his playing career ended.

“Jose’s best chance to make it in Kansas City probably was in 1995, and it’s unfortunate that he had the injury that season,” said Bob Hegman, the Royals’ director of minor league operations. “If he’s going to get back to the majors, it probably needs to be quickly.”

But Hegman says the odds probably aren’t in his favor.

“We all love Jose, and he’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” Hegman said. “And he’s been a good player in Omaha, but at this point, he could be approaching the downside of his playing career.”

Hegman said he hopes Mota will eventually consider becoming a coach like his father. “We’ve already talked to him about that possibility,” Hegman said. “We think he’d be a good coach, and we’d like to have him with our organization.”

Mota says he’s considering several options when his playing career does end, and coaching is one of them.

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Mota, who graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in communications, also is interested in broadcasting. “I did an internship with Fred Roggin at Channel 4, and I really enjoyed it,” Mota said. “I’ve also done a little bit of work on radio and television in Omaha, so that’s definitely a possibility.”

Mota says he also has thought about becoming a teacher. His wife, Marie, is a teacher, and Mota has done substitute teaching in Glendora, where the family lives in the off-season.

Mota says he also has given some thought to coaching on the college level. “I helped out Augie Garrido a little once in the off-season at Fullerton,” he said.

Mota says he also has some interest in the front-office side of baseball and might consider a career there.

Mota and his wife have two children, Joey, 8, and a 9-week-old daughter, Alina.

“I try not to influence him one way or the other on how much longer he’s going to continue to play,” Marie Mota said. “We’ve put a lot of time into his baseball career, but a lot of people don’t get to do what they want with their lives. I just don’t want him to look back when he’s 60 and say he wished he’d played a little longer. I want him to be able to feel he’s taken baseball as far as he can.”

At least for now, Mota says he wants to keep playing, even if the opportunity isn’t there on a regular basis.

“All I can control is giving it my best effort,” he said. “And that’s what I try to do. I think I’ll know when it’s time to quit.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Manny Sons Followed Dad Jose Mota is one of three sons of Dodger coach Manny Mota playing professional baseball.

Gary, who played at Fullerton College, is in the Houston organization with Class A Kissimmee, Fla.

The youngest of the Mota brothers, Tony, signed with the Dodgers this summer and is playing in Yakima, Wash.

Two other brothers played in the minor leagues but have retired. Domingo, works as a counselor at Reggie Smith’s baseball development center in Woodland Hills, and Andy works for a Los Angeles sports agent.

Another brother, Rafael, is an airline employee.


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