Saturday, October 22, 2011

A weekend recap

The New York Daily News profiles the role that Jason Motte is playing in the World Series.
Motte has become one of the more recognizable faces of this baseball postseason, his furry mug getting close-ups on national television as he's closed out games during the St. Louis' Cardinals run to the World Series. But when he played at Iona from 2001-03, Motte wasn't a pitcher. He was just a college kid who always got his uniform filthy, who loved catching and hoped to make it to the big leagues, but wearing a mask instead of a Grizzly Adams-beard.[...]

Brian Beyrer, the sports information director at Iona who attended the school at the same time Motte did, says in the postseason he's been "getting texts from college friends asking, 'Were we in school with this guy?'" Al Zoccolillo, the longtime Iona coach who ran the program when Motte was there and retired in 2005, says he's been watching Motte in every game this October.

"I knew he would succeed because of his determination in this game," Zoccolillo says. "You have the talent, go for it. He had the drive. He was Mr. Baseball. This kid was meant to play baseball, he really was."

Just not as a catcher, at least in the major leagues. He was terrific at Iona, so good that opposing coaches would come up to Zoccolillo and ask, "Where did you get that catcher?"

Zoccolillo clocked Motte's throws to second as low as 1.76 seconds – most major leaguers do it in 1.9-2.0 seconds. His arm was so strong that when Iona trained a radar gun on Motte's throws from his knees, he threw 85 miles per hour.[...]

Motte excelled behind the plate in the Cardinals' system, throwing out 49% of the runners trying to steal against him over four seasons. But he didn't hit enough – his career OPS in the minors is only .453, and he struck out 205 times in 614 at-bats. A thumb injury also helped push the Cardinals toward asking him to pitch, and he converted to the mound during the 2006 season, though he hadn't pitched since he was in Little League.

Two years later, Motte made the majors and he's been a key cog in the Cards' bullpen, even taking over some closing duties this season, though, despite saving Game 1 of the World Series with a perfect ninth, he got the loss in Game 2 when he blew the save. He's now the first Iona pitcher to appear in the World Series since the Royals' Dennis Leonard - a three-time 20-game winner - did in 1980.
Bernie offers his thoughts on the Cubs' hiring of former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.

The NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth has all the bets made for the World Series.

The USA Today covers the playoff beard.
"I have a beard," says Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs, "because I hate shaving every day. My facial hair grows at an incredible rate. It's easier to deal with."

Indeed, what chafes the players more than a dull Gillette blade is the notion that there is some metaphysical connection to their beard and their success. St. Louis closer Jason Motte says he tires of outsiders remarking on "his playoff beard."

"Well," he said, "I've had a beard since 2008. People on this team have never seen my face."

Another simplistic reason for why ballplayers rock the beard: Because they can.

Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn says minor league players in the organization aren't allowed to grow beards, so it's seen as a bit of freedom.[...]

Motte acknowledges he's let his go a bit in the postseason, but won't soon be achieving Wilson-esque length or color. "That's a little too long. I'm au naturel, man," he said. "I've got reds, grays, browns. I'm good with right where I am."

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