JUPITER, Fla. -- Tell Cardinals closer Jason Motte that he lost a season to Tommy John surgery, and he'll respond that he gained the time to do good. He may not have thrown a pitch, but he's proud to say he started an effort to help fight cancer.
Motte, inspired by the words of Roberto Clemente -- "Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth." -- has found a way to unite opponents on the field with charitable endeavors off the field.
The effort started small last spring with 300 shirts that Motte planned to pass out to friends and teammates. He hoped to sell a few, too, at his fall fundraiser to raise money for a cancer center in the Memphis, Tenn., area to which he and his wife had a personal connection.
Fans who saw Motte donning the shirt let him know they'd like one in their team's colors. That got him to thinking: If this plan worked for him and his charity, maybe it could benefit other players' charities in other markets as well. So Motte started to recruit late last season.
"We may go up there and strike each other out or hit homers off each other, but what it really comes down to is that there is a bigger cause that guys can come together for," Motte said. "This means a lot to a lot of people."
Pirates closer Jason Grilli and former Cardinals infielder Skip Schumaker, now with the Reds, immediately jumped on board. Three days after the 2013 World Series ended, Motte reached out to Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who is in remission after battling lymphoma. John Axford and A.J. Ellis agreed to help, too.
The website 108 Stitches went live on March 17, showcasing the "Strike Out Cancer" tees in each team's colors. Each is promoted by a different player who agreed to join Motte in a partnership that will benefit multiple charities. Each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirts sales, and for each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to a charity of that player's choice. A full list of recipient charities will be listed on the 108 Stitches website soon, along with a photo of each player rep in his team-colored shirt.
"My grandfather died of cancer at 66, too young, and my brother-in-law is battling cancer right now," Grilli said. "When Jason approached me, it was very easy to say 'Yes.' It's easy to do, and I'm doing it gladly, for sure. The fight against cancer is something Major League Baseball is involved with. We have to use the pedestal and the platform as much as we can for good. We're in a position where we're asked a lot, and it's our responsibility to do good."
"It's a great idea to help fight the plague of cancer," Ellis added. "I'm honored Jason reached out."
"At the end of the day, it's about reaching people," Motte said. "Baseball is great and everything, but there are other really important things going on out there that affect a lot of people. Wearing these T-shirts shows people that they're not alone. They're not sitting there doing chemo by themselves where no one cares. People do care, whether it's friends, family or baseball players. There are people who this has touched and this has affected. This is something we're trying to do to get the word out there and try to raise money to help."
The impact of this effort still remains personal in many ways. Just as Motte wanted donations to be directed toward his foundation, each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirt sales. For each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to another player's charity.
Motte said the only requirement he gave was that each player choose a charity that had significance to them.
"If it means something to you, you're going to be passionate about helping raise money," Motte said. "There are so many organizations, so many people that need help. That's why I'm excited we're actually doing it in different colors, different cities to help out different things."
The work has been uniting, and for Motte, it's been one reason why the past year worked out just as it was supposed to.
"I've always said that baseball is great -- it's what I do, but it's not really what I am," Motte said. "You can not like me on the baseball field because I'm a Cardinal and you're a Cubs fans, but I'd rather you like me as a person. In this clubhouse, we have some really good ballplayers, but we also have some really good husbands, men, people.
"I've had people come up and ask if it's tough not to be able to push too hard in the rehab, and I said, 'No. It's really not.' I really don't know why, but it's weird how everything happens, how it all works out."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Mark Sheldon, Tom Singer, Jane Lee, Jordan Bastian, Carrie Muskat, Greg Johns, Chris Haft, Cash Kruth and Ken Gurnick contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less