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08/06/09 6:59 PM ET

Polanco has Mota to thank on many fronts

Tigers infielder was helped to Majors by Dominican great

DETROIT -- If not for the work of Dominican baseball great Manny Mota, Placido Polanco might never have had the chance to become a star in the United States. He also wouldn't have had a chance to become a U.S. citizen.

For that matter, a little help from Japan's Hiroshima Carp helped, too.

Considering Polanco isn't the kind of athlete who would wow a scout at first sight, he needed some things to go right for him to get to the big leagues. But he's the kind of player who would fight to create opportunities for himself.

In many ways, the belief to keep fighting for opportunities all started with the help of Mota.

"Manny Mota is like a second father to me," Polanco told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez. "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."

Mota is known in the United States for his career as an outfielder and pinch-hitting specialist, then for his past 30 years as a coach with Los Angeles Dodgers. In the Dominican Republic, he's also known for his humanitarian efforts, including his own foundation and youth league, but also for helping out kids and their families who need help.

Polanco and his family weren't in that category, but the two families knew each other through Polanco's father, Placido Sr., also a well-known ballplayer in their country who became an instructor in Mota's Little League. Their families knew each other well enough to be like family to each other.

Polanco played in the Manny Mota Little Leagues in Santo Domingo, then made a name for himself as a high school player. The next step for him was a stint in a developmental academy.

He ended up working out in the camp of the Carp, a team in Japan's Central League whose academy would be known later for helping develop Alfonso Soriano. They were impressed enough by Polanco to offer him an opportunity to keep working with the academy and eventually go over to Japan, but Polanco hoped to play in the United States.

With that in mind, and with his parents hoping for him to get an education, Polanco looked for a chance at college ball. With help from Mota, he found a spot and a scholarship on the team at Miami Dade Community College.

"This is a long way, but it was destiny," Polanco said last year. "I wanted to be here."

That was the opportunity he needed. His play at Miami-Dade caught the eye of a scout with the St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted him. After having to transition from student visa to working visa, Polanco steadily worked his way through the Minors and won over believers until he made it to St. Louis, where he became one of manager Tony La Russa's core player.

Polanco lives in Miami and became a U.S. citizen last year, but he hasn't forgotten his Dominican roots. He spends parts of his offseasons in the Dominican, and he played for the Dominican team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

And of course, he'll never forget Mota.

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