COLUMBUS, Ohio – Every team could use a Dustin Molleken.
Currently with the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, the 30-year-old right-hander has played for 11 teams in five different organizations between two continents over 12 years in minor-league baseball. He joined his fifth franchise as a free-agent sign in the off-season.
“The Indians were pushing for me,” Molleken said. “They were all over my agent. They wanted to sign me and they’re an unbelievable organization … Since I’ve been here, I’ve been throwing the ball well but I’ve had a few tough outings. It’s still early in the year and the season is long.”
On the mound, he’s posted a 4.89 ERA over 548 1/3 affiliated innings through his 12 seasons, adding a 3.38 mark over 29 1/3 frames over parts of two seasons in Japan’s Pacific League. He currently is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in nine games and 10 innings for Columbus, with 12 strikeouts.
While his contributions as a hurler are certainly always primary, his presence in the clubhouse is often unmatched, and most notably throughout his time in a Team Canada jersey. Over multiple stints with the national team, Molleken has been a staple in Canadian locker rooms, providing the exact mix of fun, motivation, and inspiration that every squad needs.
“[Molleken] is the definitely of a beauty,” his national teammate Tim Smithsaid. “He’s just one of those guys who has a contagious smile and positive vibes no matter what the situation is. He’s a very proud Canadian and he brings that team-first attitude.
“He buys into whatever the plan for the task at hand is, and that rubs off on others. When everyone is on board it’s a special thing. We really understand the team-over-the-individual [mindset] with Baseball Canada and he is a great model for Baseball Canada’s image.”
Heading into the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games on home soil in the Greater Toronto Area in July, Canada has lost several of the veteran players who helped the team to its first gold medal in program history four years ago.Shawn Hill, former big leaguer and Team Canada mainstay, knows that the squad will be fine if Molleken – or someone like him – is around.
“You’re going to have to have certain guys obviously be there and be able to gel the team together,” Hill said. “Dustin Molleken, for example, was one of the huge pieces there. He threw very well while we were down there [at the World Cup in Panama and Pan Am Games in Mexico] and had however many innings as a reliever, but his biggest contribution to me – and that’s in no way taking away from his pitching performance – was how he kept the clubhouse and kept the team so light.”
In the near future, the native of Regina, Sask., will have to decide whether or not he will participate in the upcoming Games or if he will continue with Columbus for the chance of making his big-league debut with the Indians. Either way, he believes Team Canada will be just fine.
“When [decision-time for] Pan Am comes I’ll see how I’m doing,” Molleken said. “If I’m throwing the ball well, it would be a hard decision to go. But if I get the opportunity to go, I will be there 100% …
“The new, young players have just got to step up in those big situations. We’ll see what they can do. We all know those veteran players who are gone, but we have a bunch of people who can step up and take over.”
Confident in the abilities of the national team to get the job done, Hill was sure to note just how special an addition Molleken is.
“He’s just an absolutely character in the best of ways,” Hill said. “He makes everybody relax. If we have somebody like that, and Dustin’s back, it makes it pretty easy … You basically just need somebody to be able to bring everybody together and keep the focus. It’s a short tournament, so you’re all in from the first pitch of the first inning of the first game to the end of it, because it’s not going to last that long. So you have to just give it what you have, and you have to emphasize that to the younger guys.”
Over Molleken’s last three outings for the Clippers, the flame-throwing righty has held opponents scoreless, allowing one hit over four innings of relief. Whether or not he joins his national teammates in Ajax, Ont., for the tournament in two months, he holds the memories of the gold-medal win four years ago in the highest regard as the highlight of his time in red and white.
“The time we won the whole thing in 2011 was the best team we’ve ever had,” Molleken said. “The people we had on that team were great. Everybody hung out with each other, we had fun, I liked to mess around with everybody a little bit, but that team was special … our team was unbelievable.
“Every time you stick on that jersey, it just makes my arm hair stand up. And then hearing the national anthem, and talking about it now, it’s like it just happened when we were on top [of the podium] … When we were standing up there and we were all screaming the national anthem at the same, it’s the best feeling ever.”