Remembering glory days with Coach Bear

From left are Rosa Guajardo, Sissy Sharer, Vidal "Bear" Molina, Linda Lopez, Maria "Amalia" Soliz, Sylvia (Garcia) Menchaca, Celia Ruiz, Ena Pena and Bubba Molina. Bear was given a beautiful engraved wall plaque in our appreciation for his coaching. (Photo courtesy of Celia Ruiz)

Buenos Dias! 

Once upon a time there was a young man who loved sports. 

Vidal “Bear” Molina was born in 1946. Shortly after, his parents moved to George West from Mathis. He remembers being 10 years old when he was going to school and working part-time at Mr. Canfield’s store. He loved baseball and was in Little League.  

Having only one pair of tennis shoes for school, work and baseball; he remembers that one of his tennis shoes tore while at PE practice. He went to work at the store and taped his shoe to hold it together. He had a game that evening and knowing that he couldn’t run with the defective shoe, he put on sandals.

He dressed himself into his baseball uniform and walking from the “barrio” where he lived, he made the game at 8 p.m., only to hear his fellow team players laughing and making fun of his sandals.

Yet as good a player as he was at that young age, his coaches told him after the game that they wanted to meet with him the following morning (Saturday).

He was surprised that his coaches took him to the former Morrison’s store where they bought him new tennis shoes and an expensive baseball glove, then took him to the T&T Café where he was treated to his first chicken fried steak.

Because of this kindness from his childhood coaches, Molina used it as an example to follow when it came to his coaching in later years.

When Bear was 14 years old and playing with the grown-ups, he saw kids with torn tennis shoes and no gloves or baseball equipment to practice at home to improve their skills.

He’d see that they received new tennis shoes and by asking around, he was also able to collect and repair equipment in his carport to help these kids who loved baseball as he did. He’d tell them to take what they wanted but to “return the favor” to someone else.

His mom told him that none of the Molinas played baseball, so being the first, he had no one to teach him, so he paid a lot of attention to the game and positions played while in the dugout.

Playing the position of catcher also gave him the opportunity to study the whole playing field in front of him and improvised his own hand signals.

All of this gave him the opportunity to guide him as an umpire at many baseball tournaments, and as a coach for his children’s Little League team and later to us, as his first ladies softball team.

Bear and his wife Carmen were blessed with children Eddie, Joe Luis, Barbara (Bubba), Vidal and Gabriel, who all excelled in sports, especially baseball.

Fast forward to 2021…for some time, there was talk of joining Bear for a softball women’s players’ group reunion. 

Bear excelled in his coaching starting in 1976 when his son Eddie was 9 years old in Little League, and continued up to coaching our women’s team.

It’s hard to remember when I started playing as pitcher with Bear’s women’s team.

I know I married Mike in 1972 and we both started playing on the men’s and women’s team so, I’m thinking I started with Bear’s team around 1973 or 1974. I was not playing in 1989 when Lorene Tonia was born.

Finally, on April 10, we gathered with Bear and his wife Carmen, and their grown children, Barbara (Bubba) and son Gabe for an afternoon of reminiscing!

Meeting at 3 p.m. at the Buck West House in George West, we shared stories of when we were young and playing our favorite sport. Bear recalled that our ladies’ team was committed and showed up for afternoon practice and for all games, especially many out-of-town tournaments.  

Their son Gabe and wife Nina attended from Selma where he is employed as an engineer in New Braunfels.

Gabe also has “The Gabe Molina Podcast” posted on Facebook and seen on YouTube. He had his equipment on the table so we could record our stories from memories when we played for Bear’s team.

In an upcoming column, I will describe the memories of the women who played softball for Bear all those years ago.

Until next time ... Adios!

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