Offseason of change gives Motte new perspective
Cards' closer embraces daughter, new contract and community service
JUPITER, Fla. -- The reminder of a life-changing offseason for Jason Motte looks her daddy in the eyes each afternoon when he returns to his Spring Training residence.
He doesn't fret the sleep she costs him or find monotony in the responsibilities of being a new father. There is power in perspective, and he embraces the way in which Margaret Morgan Motte has altered his.
In an offseason that many assume would have been highlighted by the financial security gained in signing a multi-year deal -- the first of Motte's career -- the Cardinals closer prepares for the 2013 season shouldering responsibilities that have nothing to do with preserving ninth-inning leads.
Rather, he has found added significance in his personal life.
Motte recently put his name to a foundation, which is aiding cancer patients and their families in Memphis, Tenn., a place he and his family now call home. Nearly two months after hosting his first charity event, Margaret was born. Both events made the two-year, $12 million contract Motte signed on Jan. 23, the bonus, not focus, of an impactful few months.
"Baseball is what I do, it's not who I am," Motte clarified. "Now, I think that even more."
The idea came to Caitlin Motte in August 2011, when she was driving from St. Louis to Memphis in order to coach at a youth basketball camp. She and Jason had talked for months about ways in which they could assist the Wings Cancer Foundation -- a not-for-profit organization that provides emotional and physical support for cancer patients and their families -- but hadn't yet settled on a tangible idea.
At the time of this particular drive, it had been nearly a year since the Mottes were first introduced to the center. They had been regular visitors the previous offseason, when Caitlin Motte's grandfather, Lynn Doyle, was receiving assistance during his battle with lung cancer.
During one of those visits, the couple noticed a need for blankets. After being told the center could not accept physical donations, the Mottes vowed to find a way to help monetarily.
Caitlin Motte believed she finally had an idea and relayed her thoughts about holding a sports memorabilia auction -- Strike Out Cancer, she suggested it be called -- to Jason. He was unhesitant in his support.
"We knew we wanted to do something for them because they did so much for Jason and our family," Caitlin Motte said. "We wanted to do something to help these people out and give them money."
The initial planning process was rushed, and after the Cardinals advanced to the World Series, the Mottes decided it would be too difficult to pull off that fall. The intention, though, only augmented.
Throughout the 2012 season, Jason Motte collected signed baseball memorabilia. Caitlin Motte used her connections to gather basketball and football items. On Nov. 17, 2012, shortly after the official formation of The Jason Motte Foundation, about 200 people attended a Strike Out Cancer event.
Close to $37,000 was raised. All of it was donated to the Wings Cancer Foundation.
"Having someone so visible to champion our cause and our program really does mean a lot," said Keri Burnette, the special events and public relations coordinator for the Wings Cancer Foundation. "It's not every day that we get somebody like that who is behind what you're doing. They're two of the kindest, most humble, down-to-earth people that you'll ever meet. It takes special people to step up in the way that they did."
The fundraiser was one of the largest of the year to benefit the Wings Cancer Foundation, which provides all of its services free of charge. Burnette said the funds raised through the Mottes' event will allow the center to expand its services into lower-income areas that it had previously not been able to penetrate because of a lack of funding.
"It was awesome," Jason Motte said of the response to the charity event. He and Caitlin are already brainstorming ideas for the next one, which they'd like to host in St. Louis.
"We have to figure out other ways to raise money and help them," Motte said, "because they have helped so many people out."
At seven pounds, three ounces, Margaret Morgan arrived on Jan. 7. Named after one of her great-grandmothers, Margaret distinguished herself immediately with a full head of black hair. Caitlin Motte described her husband as "hooked" the moment he saw his first child.
"I had to remind him that I was a part of it, too," Caitlin joked. "Hands-on doesn't even describe it. I didn't change a diaper for the first two weeks. He wanted to do everything."
Jason Motte has shown the newborn off outside the clubhouse several times this spring. He also finds himself no longer answering in the affirmative each time he's asked if closing out the 2011 World Series was the best feeling he's experienced. It's not even close, he now says.
"I'm going to go out there and do the best I can to get guys out," Motte said. "But it's funny, even leaving the field now, I just get to go home and hang out with her and my wife. It's just awesome. I know everybody else has kids and everybody thinks their kid is awesome, but I think mine is awesome. It's the best thing ever. It's a miracle. It's a blessing to be able to just spend time with them."
The shift in priorities, Motte said, is permanent.
"I can strike out the side or give up 17 runs and she's still going to look at me the exact same way," Motte said. "When you look at the big scheme of things, that's what's important. If I have a bad day, my little girl doesn't care. All that matters is that I come through the door."
In stressing the significance of all that happened to him personally this offseason, Motte does not intend to downplay the assurance of entering a new season with added financial security. He's appreciative of the Cardinals' willingness to invest in him despite statistics that show how risky that can be with closers. He also understands that with such contracts come increased expectations.
It is all bound in the context of Motte's journey, which was untraditional in many ways.
"When I was hitting .180 as a catcher [in the Minors], the last thing I thought was about being on the mound in 2011 for the final out of the World Series," Motte said. "Then it developed last year. For [manager] Mike [Matheny] to have the confidence in me to let me be the guy going out in the ninth the whole year was important."
Motte prepares for 2013 on the heels of his first full season as a big league closer. He saved a National League-best 42 games and became just the fourth pitcher in franchise history to hit the 40-save mark in a season. Motte finished with 86 strikeouts in 72 innings. He never had back-to-back blown saves. His WHIP of 0.92 ranked fifth-lowest in the league among relievers with at least 40 innings.
"It's been a great move for him and so fun to watch," said Mitchell Boggs, Motte's setup man and long-time teammate in the organization. "I remember seeing in the Minors a guy who had a great arm and who threw really hard and had a great mentality on the mound. He went right after guys. You could see that all he had to do was polish a couple of things and he'd be successful in the big leagues."
"He came up as a thrower and could get by with his stuff," added Matheny. "Now he's really worked on pitching. He's got a real good idea of where he needs to make these pitches to be successful and to limit the damage."
Having now been in the league since 2008, Motte has assumed a leadership role in the bullpen. He insists he's more a lead-by-example type, though Motte has been among the more verbal pitchers participating in Cardinals workouts this spring. He exudes constant confidence in what he can do, satisfaction in who he has become and an awareness about how blessed he's been.
"The saves, they're cool. But really, the number doesn't matter to me," Motte said. "To go out there and put up a zero and help the team win is what is important to me. And then with everything this offseason, it was all more than I could have expected."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.