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Whenever the discussion comes up about Iona College’s most successful athletes on the professional level, the conversation usually contains the names of former NBA standouts Richie Guerin and Jeff Ruland and MLB pitcher Dennis Leonard.
But let’s face it - that was a lifetime ago for today’s generation of students.
Guerin, a six-time All Star, graduated from the school almost 60 years ago.
Ruland played for the Maroon & Gold in the late '70s, was a standout in the NBA during the '80s and is recognized as the former coach of Gaels, who led the team to three MAAC Championships from 1998 through 2007.
Leonard, won at least 20 games three times from 1975 through 1980, and is considered one of the best starting pitchers of his generation.
Now, the Gaels have a new sheriff in town and his name is Jason Motte, the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pause and think about that for a second - the CLOSER for a professional baseball team that just won a World Series.
"Not bad for a former catcher in the Cardinals' minor leagues. He was auditioned as the closer a few years ago but wasn't quite ready," says John Rooney, the Cards’ radio play-by-play announcer on the morning following the team’s 11th World Championship. "I haven't seen too many runs like Jason had from June through October. The thing I like most about Jason is his love for the game. He enjoys every minute he's with his teammates through good times and bad times."
The journey for Motte started 10 years ago on this very New Rochelle, NY, campus. He was just another-student athlete among the crowd of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Eight years after he left Iona, Motte was on the mound for the final out in Game 7 of the World Series.
Now he is on top of the world!
When Motte was the catcher for the Gaels, there was talk among his coaches about him possibly moving to the hill.
"We talked about the fact that Jason had a tremendous arm and had the potential to be successful as a pitcher, but it was never something he wanted to do, " says John Barone, former Iona College pitching coach. "He enjoyed catching, being part of every pitch, controlling a game behind the plate, and being in the lineup every game. He was very talented as a catcher that it made more sense to not force him to do something he didn't want to do."
The talk around Hynes Athletics Center turned to reality for Motte when he was playing for the Memphis Redbirds in 2006.
Motte broke his thumb and as his average started to plummet, the conversion to pitcher "was in the cards."
He soared in the minor leagues and made his major league debut in 2008 at the age of 26.
In his rookie year, Motte struck out 16 batters in 11 innings of work, and posted a stingy 0.82 E.RA.
In 2009, Motte mowed down 54 batters in 56.2innings, but his ERA jumped to 4.76. He was able to turn things around over the last two seasons - striking out 117 batters in 120.1 innings and saving 11 games for the Cards.
But it wasn’t until the end of August, that this unlikely story would be beginning its first chapter.
On Aug. 28, Motte earned his first save of the season after notching 16 holds for manager Tony LaRussa.
The kid that called North Avenue his home for a few semesters earned LaRussa’s trust to be the closer (although LaRussa never officially labeled him the closer). With no room for error, Motte saved eight games in the month of September as the Cards won 18 of 26 games en route to the wild card.
"A great fit with a team that has the veteran leadership of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Now he's a leader in the bullpen, "says Rooney. "I really believe he became comfortable with pitching anytime Tony handed him the ball."
In order for Motte to be able to get the final out of the World Series, the stars needed to align perfectly.
First, the Cards were 10-and-a-half games behind the Braves for the wild card spot in the National league, and then clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season. Second, pitcher Chris Carpenter had to out duel his former teammate and friend, Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay, in Game 5 of the division series as St. Louis won 1-0. Finally, the Cards were down to their last strike, not once but twice, in Game 6 of the World Series, before winning the game, 10-9, in 11 innings.
"Jason Motte is the right guy for this moment. The Cardinals couldn't have won it without him," says Rooney. "He is very unselfish but tough and so dependable. He is a TRUE team player."
Barone isn’t surprised by Rooney’s comments about Motte being a great team player.
"Jason has always had a great attitude, on and off the field. You can talk about all the success he's had, but there really couldn't be a more deserving person." says Barone. "He was always a good kid-great attitude, stayed out of trouble, worked hard and would do anything we asked him. After all the success he's had, I watched him last night after closing out the World Series and he's still a humble, classy guy."
Motte saved five games this post season for the Cardinals and didn’t allow an earned run in eight innings of work in the division and championship series.
How often have young boys pretended to get the final out of a World Series or throw the winning pass in a Super Bowl? It’s all part of our childhood playground dreams.
It’s something made of fairy tales, but it really happened to a member of the Iona College family.
Mike Damergis is the Media Director for the Dept. of Mass Communication and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org