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Welington Castillo has made a fan of Cardinals’ Yadier Molina

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Updated: June 17, 2014 2:22PM



ST. LOUIS — The sentiments themselves are rather simple.

‘‘Keep working hard.’’

‘‘What you’re doing is working.’’

‘‘You’re getting better and better.’’

That they come from the best catcher of his generation has a profound effect on Welington Castillo.

If anything has built the 27-year-old Castillo’s confidence during his two seasons as the Cubs’ primary catcher, it’s the encouragement he receives at home plate from the leader of the rival St. Louis Cardinals, five-time All-Star Yadier Molina.

Molina might be something of a hero to Castillo — heck, to any younger catcher — but in this case the admiration flows in both directions. As the 31-year-old explained Wednesday, it isn’t always easy for a Cardinal to compliment a Cub, or vice versa, especially on the field during a game. But Molina decided a while ago that Castillo was his kind of player.

At home plate — sometimes as the catcher, sometimes as the batter — Molina encourages Castillo. Not always, of course. There are times when such fraternizing would be inappropriate even by an all-time great.

But when you’ve earned the sort of singular status Molina has at his position, you get to break certain rivalry rules and be as magnanimous as you want to be.

‘‘The kid’s been amazing for Chicago,’’ Molina said. ‘‘He likes to work. I can see that before the game, during his drills in the outfield. Every time, he’s getting better. Every day. So far, so good. I think he’s a great catcher.”

A young Molina was influenced not only by former Cardinals catcher and current manager Mike Matheny but by older brothers Bengie and Jose, both catchers. The Molinas are the only trio of brothers in big-league history to each win a World ­Series ring.

‘‘When I came up my first [few] years, I got some good advice from some really good guys,’’ Molina said. ‘‘So I’m just trying to give [Castillo] some advice, too.

‘‘He deserves it. He can call a great game. Got a good arm, quick, good feet, can hit. He can hit 10 to 20 home runs someday. And he’s smart — real smart — and works hard.’’

Whoa, that’s some seriously high praise. And it’s coming from a guy who didn’t have a 100-hit season until his fifth year in the big leagues and didn’t make an All-Star team until his sixth year.

In other words, as great as Molina is, not even he took a quick path to stardom. So if you’re wondering if Castillo has a chance to become not just a good catcher but a truly terrific one, at least consider the opinion of the man no one on the planet would rank lower than No. 1 at the position right now.

He might know a thing or two.

‘‘Man, it’s so good to hear stuff like that from a guy like him,’’ Castillo said. ‘‘He’s a superstar. He’s the best catcher in the game. There’s so much to learn from ­Yadier Molina.’’

Defensively, Molina might be the best of all time; let’s assume Castillo never will equal him. Offensively, he has become an annual .300-plus hitter and a major run producer; let’s figure that’s a lot to shoot for, too.

But Molina’s support has given Castillo the confidence to say things like this:

‘‘I try to motivate everyone. I’m the catcher. And I believe in myself. I believe in my skill. I know I can do this.’’

And that puts the biggest Cubs fans in a bit of an awkward position, doesn’t it? Let them try to hate Molina now.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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