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VOL. 133 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 22, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Next Inning for Jason Motte? Teaching Players at U of M

By Don Wade

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With former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte joining the University of Memphis baseball program as director of player development, a review is in order.

If you’re a student of Cardinals World Series history, you probably remember the highlights of their victory over the Texas Rangers in 2011. Down three games to two in Game 6 at Busch Stadium, David Freese provided the heroics with a two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the score at 7-7 and rescue the Cardinals.

Then with the scored knotted at 9-9 in the 11th, Freese finished the job with a game-winning home run for a 10-9 win. The next day in Game 7, Motte got the last three outs in a 6-2 victory and the Cardinals had another world championship.

Former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte will be a teacher as player development director for the University of Memphis baseball program, but he says learning about the game never stops. (File Photo)

But it was the 10th inning of Game 6 that is memorable for Motte. With one out, the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton smacked a two-run homer off him for a 9-7 lead. Maybe you remember that, too. But do you remember the danger that still remained in that inning with two outs still to get?

Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre followed Hamilton to the plate and they had hit a combined 48 home runs during the 2011 regular season. Motte retired them and the inning did not completely unravel, leaving an opening for Freese’s clutch hit.

“I thought, ‘That stinks,’” Motte said of his mindset in the moment. “Now can I get the ball back and get the next guy out? What has happened in the past doesn’t matter. It’s over.”

What Motte is saying is not a revolutionary thought. No doubt, the young Memphis Tigers pitchers have heard something similar. But not from a world champion who had to back up the idea with his actions, get the outs to get his team back in the dugout with a chance.

Motte pitched nine years with the Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves and saved 60 games, including a National League-leading 42 in 2012. He also saved eight games in the postseason for St. Louis.

Tigers head coach Daron Schoenrock believes Motte can make “an immediate impact” on the program. One reason? The path he took, getting drafted as a catcher out of Iona College in 2003 and converting to pitcher in the minors a few years later.

The 6-foot, 205-pound right-hander had the arm for it, touching 101 mph from the mound during his big league career and consistently throwing in the high 90s before Tommy John surgery cost him his 2013 season.

But Motte will be the first to say velocity isn’t everything. His first couple of years in the majors all he had was a fastball. And as he notes, it didn’t move like Mariano Rivera’s cutter.

“It was a pretty straight pitch,” he said. “I learned early that getting ahead and location is key. Big league hitters, they can time up a bullet.”

The numbers on the radar gun might be different, but the same principle applies in college baseball. Center-cut fastballs with good velocity, especially minus an effective secondary pitch, will get squared up.

Motte considers himself fortunate to have had many resources during his time with the Cardinals, from manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to fellow pitchers that included Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen. Then at spring training, he could tap into the knowledge provided by legends such as Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith.

“They’re Hall of Famers and they were still learning things about baseball,” Motte said.

So, while he figures he has things to teach in his new role, he also knows the learning never stops.

Motte and his wife, Caitlin, started a foundation with the tagline “Let’s strike out cancer” several years ago. They and their two children live in Memphis, and Motte’s association with the Memphis baseball program began in 2010 as he started doing offseason workouts at the Tigers’ baseball facility.

So this position is a case of right place, right time.

“I’m doing this to be around the game, help develop guys as players and people,” said Motte, who just turned 36. “It’s a chance to get my feet wet, see if this is something I want to pursue more.

“I’m right where I need to be.”

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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