Polanco grateful for Mota's guidance

Polanco grateful for guidance of Dodgers' Mota

LOS ANGELES -- Of all the stories that Dodgers coach Manny Mota has told over the years, perhaps no other baseball tale means so much to him as the one involving his beloved Placidito from the Dominican Republic.

Placidito was a small boy for his age, Mota recalls, but a boy who came from a good family and a boy who was destined for great things. Placidito could hit and he could field, but he wasn't the fastest on the team, maybe because his legs were shorter than everybody else's, but he tried hard and he had a heart of gold.

Placidito would be somebody someday, Mota believed, so he never gave up on the 10-year-old kid, and Placidito never gave up on himself.

Mota was right. Placidito is better known these days as Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, and although he has come a long way from his playing days in the Manny Mota Little Leagues in Santo Domingo, Polanco still carries the lessons learned from his youth. He also carries a part of Mota with him every time he takes the field.

This season, Polanco is hitting .310 with two RBIs in 10 games for Detroit. For his career, he boasts a .301 batting average in 930 games with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Detroit.

"Manny Mota is like a second father to me," Polanco, 29, said. "He not only gave me a scholarship to go to college and to live in the United States, he taught me the game and how to live. He gave me a life scholarship."

The ties between the Motas and Polancos run deep. Polanco's father, also named Placido, was a former baseball and softball star in the Dominican Republic who later became an instructor in the Manny Mota Little Leagues. Like Mota, Placido Sr. dedicated his life to helping Dominican boys and girls reach their potential, and a bond between the families quickly formed. Helping matters was the fact that the families lived in the same neighborhood, and the baseball community was like a family in its own right.

If you needed to find Placidito in those days, he was likely at the Motas. The Mota kids spent a lot of time at the Polancos'. That's just how it was. To a degree, it is still that way.

"Placidito is family," Mota said. "He was like a son to my wife and a brother to my own children. He always treated us with respect, because he comes from a good family. Helping Placidito was not hard, because it was like helping my own child."

It is not as if Placidito was a charity case. The gifted athlete shone at Santa Clara High School and honed some of his skills during a brief stint at a Japanese baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

Polanco loved baseball. His parents loved education. The compromise between father and son was to attend Miami Dade Community College. That's where Mota stepped in.

Mota's next-door neighbor in Miami was the athletic director at the college.

"We did everything we could to get him in that school," Mota said. "The coach told me Placidito does not run well, and we worked on that. I remember going out there and practicing with him every day so the college would accept him. We prepared him, but he always had the desire. He always wanted to work hard."

"His mother and father gave him a good foundation," Mota continued. "They are good people, a serious family and very responsible. I am not surprised Placidito is where he is today. Look at his family."

Which one? During his two years at Miami Dade Community College, paid for by Manny, Polanco lived with the Motas in Miami. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 19th round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft, and he made his big-league debut in 1998 with St. Louis at the age of 22.

"Manny helped me with everything -- baseball and outside of baseball," Polanco said. "I was like one of the children. We did everything together. I owe him so much."

Polanco also deserves a little credit, himself.

Polanco played in 118 games for the Cardinals in 2000, and he played in 144 and 147 games in the following two seasons. Polanco hit .298 in 2004, and he excelled last season, posting a .331 batting average with nine home runs and 56 RBIs in 129 games for the Phillies and Tigers.

"I just go out to do my job," Polanco said. "I do not know about me being a leader or anything like that. I see myself as somebody who works hard and wants to win. I am happy -- people say good things about me, and that makes me feel good -- but my goal is to win."

Regardless of how he does, Placidito has at least one lifelong fan following his every move. Call it Manny being Manny.

"I feel really satisfied and happy for what Placidito has achieved," Mota said. "He made a lot of sacrifices, and it was not easy, but he had a goal, and he did it."

Placidito also gave Mota a favorite story to share.

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.