Cubs News

The heartwarming reunion 8 years in the making for Cubs coach Jonathan Mota

8 months agoAndy Martinez

As René Mota walked up the steps leading to the seating level on the third base side at Wrigley Field, he tried to keep his emotions in check.

When he saw his son, Cubs major league coach Jonathan Mota, on the field, though, the joy and passion won out. As René took the 14 steps down the Wrigley Field seating bowl on the third base side towards the historic playing surface, tears were running down his face.

For the first time in 8 years (around 2,800 days), René and Jonathan were seeing each other in person. They would be able to hug, touch and feel each other’s presence and there wouldn’t be a cell phone or thousands of miles separating them.

As the father and son embraced Wednesday morning in a hug nearly a decade in the making, they both cried and smiled.

“It was an indescribable emotion,” René said.

“It’s super special,” Jonathan said with a smile.

René is in Chicago for a few days, watching his son coach a red-hot Chicago Cubs team and fulfill his dream as a big leaguer — even if it wasn’t how they originally dreamt it up.

Major League aspirations

Jonathan grew up in Guacara, Venezuela, outside the city of Valencia and just south of the Caribbean Sea. He is the eldest of three children. Like many in the South American country, Jonathan loved baseball and dreamt of being a major leaguer and he had one team he rooted for in the majors above all others.

“He loves baseball, he loves the Chicago Cubs,” René said. “As a kid, he would always say, ‘Dad I wanna be a Cub. I wanna play with the Cubs and I will work to play with the Cubs.’”

As he grew older, Jonathan’s skills shined and on Aug. 23, 2003, he signed his first professional contract with the Cubs, joining the organization as an international free agent. Two years later, the middle infielder moved to the United States for the first time, joining the Cubs’ then-Low-A affiliate in Boise, Idaho.

For the next few years, Jonathan made his way up the minor league ladder and in 2008, René came to the United States for the first time to visit him. He did so again the next two years, visiting Jonathan in Knoxville, Tenn., and Des Moines, Iowa, as he came closer and closer to his major-league dreams.

After the 2009 season (and each subsequent season), Mota was a minor league free agent, but each time returned to the Cubs — his love for the team and his desire to achieve his boyhood dream so strong that he couldn’t go elsewhere.

In 2012, Jonathan played winter ball with Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela — which wound up serving as the last time Jonathan was in his home country. From 2012 to 2015, he bounced between Double-A and Triple-A and spent two offseasons playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He appeared in nearly 1,000 games in the minor leagues, playing every position and was a non-roster invitee to big-league camp in 2012.

But after the 2015 season, Jonathan knew it was time to retire, falling ever-so-close to his dream.

In November 2015, René came to the States to be with his son in arguably the most difficult moment of his life. As a father, René knew he had to be there for his son. But neither pictured how the next 8 years would transpire.

‘Tough’ 8 years

When René went back to Venezuela, he never imagined that he’d go so long without seeing his eldest son. But the situation in their home country became complex. Massive inflation struck the nation, leaving it difficult to even have basic necessities. Political turmoil made traveling to and from the U.S. near impossible.

“You look to get a visa there and it’s difficult to come here to the United States,” René said.

The two communicated regularly via FaceTime, seeing each other virtually, celebrating big moments while separated and René serving as a comforting hand from afar.

“It’s really, really, really difficult because even though now there’s social media and cell phones and you can laugh and talk on FaceTime and it feels like you’re there with him, it’s not the same as hugging him, patting him on the back, telling him ‘Hey, I’m here,’” René said. “Even though you tell him you’re here on the phone for anything, the distance hits you. It’s not the same as being here, giving him a hug or to be able to talk to him and say ‘Hey, son, are you OK?’”

Jonathan couldn’t celebrate big moments with René in person — like when he became a minor league coach in South Bend in 2017 or the manager of the Cubs’ Arizona Complex League team in 2018.

He had his wife, Christine, and children, CJ and Andrew, but the man who nurtured his love for the game and showed him how to be a good human had to celebrate from afar. Jonathan worked hard. His dream of being a major league player was over, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still reach the big leagues.

Everything Jonathan did, he did with his heart back home.

“The situation in Venezuela is painful,” Jonathan said. “I think for me it was always the day-to-day. The goal of my work was to provide for my family. Not just my wife and kids and my family here in the States, but for my family in Venezuela, too.”

A new dream come true

In 2021, 18 years after first joining the Cubs’ organization, Mota was finally getting the call to the big leagues — as a staff assistant on David Ross’ coaching staff.

“Even though I didn’t reach the big leagues as a player, which is what the dream of the Mota family was, I think it’s still a dream come true for all of us that I’m here today as a coach,” Jonathan said.

And he’s been a crucial part of the Cubs coaching corps. Mota works with all aspects of the team but specializes in defense — an area where the Cubs excel. Prior to a game, you can find Mota hitting fungos to infielders, snagging fly balls or in the bullpen with the pitching staff.

He’s played an integral role for one of the Cubs’ most crucial players, too.

Dansby Swanson has a specific pregame routine to help prepare him defensively and Mota is huge in that. He hits grounders from close range to Swanson to help get his feel down. It’s a similar routine to what Swanson had in Atlanta with third base coach Ron Washington.

“I think we’ve had like mutual impact,” Swanson said. “Cause I feel like in terms of routine stuff, obviously we’ve worked really well together on kind of continuing what I was doing before and teaching him some of the stuff that Wash taught me to be able to help not only our routine together, but him also be able to help other people.

“I don’t think people understand how impressive it is what he does just ’cause he does infield stuff, but he also does all the bullpen work, so he’s super busy all the time but makes it happen and it’s pretty special.”

All the while, the Motas worked to try and secure a visa so René could come to the States and see his eldest son again. Earlier this year, that finally happened and René moved to Orlando, Fla. where he has lived for the last 5 months. The busy baseball schedule meant their reunion had to wait a little longer, but after 8 years, what’s a few more months? 

René flew into Chicago on Wednesday and went to Wrigley Field, where he saw his son in person again.

“It’s indescribable to see him, hug him and be with him. These three days I get to spend with him,” René said as he paused, holding back tears, “es lo maximo. It’s the best.”

René was in town through Friday and they made the most of the time together. The pair went out for dinner on Wednesday night and Thursday the pair got to Wrigley Field early so René could take some drills on the historic field. René, 56, is a true baseball fanatic and he still plays baseball in Orlando, manning the hot corner when he suits up. 

Just a short time after René and Jonathan had been reunited, the elder Mota stood on the top step of Wrigley Field dugout, taking in the sights of the park and appreciating its beauty and soaking in the history, knowing players like Babe Ruth or Roberto Clemente once stood where he did. Jonathan occasionally stopped his brief moments of Zen by bringing someone new to introduce. First, it was bench coach Andy Green, who praised Jonathan’s coaching skills. Then it was manager David Ross, who applauded René for raising such a stellar man.

“I would always tell him this: ‘You are the best, you will be better and you will always be the best. Always work for everything,’” René said. “The words from the coaches, the manager, the personnel, tell me that and it gives me a sense of pride like you wouldn’t imagine.”

After all the introductions, the duo stood on the historic field, René on the top step of the dugout and Mota on the other side of the dugout railing, smiling, soaking in every moment 8 years in the making — a proud father with his son.

“He worked so hard since he signed … Just a few days ago it was his 20th anniversary with the organization,” René said. “He didn’t achieve that goal as a player to get to the major leagues, but he kept working. He didn’t waver. And he’s here as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs.”

And there were the two, hugging on a major league field, a moment that was a lifetime in the making with an 8-year separation that made it all the sweeter.

“It was exciting, emotional to know that my dad [is] here and all the sacrifices that he has made, that my family has made, that I have made, I knew that one day it would come to fruition and be worth it,” Jonathan said. “Today is that day.”

“Every sacrifice has its reward,” René said.

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