Spring Training hasn’t been kind to the Cards so far. I won’t lie — when I flipped on Sports Center Wednesday morning and saw the news about Adam Wainwright, my response was a dramatic series of “Oh, NO”s. Adam’s my guy … he couldn’t be done for the season, before it even began, no less! And if he was done, so were the hopes for a World Series run in 2011 … right?
But as reality took over the hysteria, I began to listen to what the rest of the Cardinals were saying. Yes, it was disappointing. Sure, it was a very hard day. And, of course, it changes the face of the team because a guy like Adam can’t just be replaced. The tone was serious. The finality of the impending surgery was evident. But it wasn’t long before I saw something else — fire.
The doubters, naturally, jumped up, saying the hopes for the Cards were all but eliminated. And the competition … don’t even get me started! The taunting, the gloating, the “singing”… It’s enough to make me sick. Or inspired. And that is precisely what I think it may have done, not only for the guys trying to fill in the fifth rotation spot, but for the guys now having to depend on each other more than ever.
When I think back about the 2006 World Championship team, there was an intangible glue that held the team together. They were touted as the “worst team to ever make it to the World Series.” They’d been dealt a rough hand with injuries that season too. Ironically, Adam Wainwright was a big part of the “glue” that year as he stepped in and stepped up, outside his comfort zone, to put the nails in the coffin, first for the Mets, then the Tigers.
But the thing about that year’s team is, it could have been anyone. It could have been Molina, Taguchi, Eckstein, Carpenter … it was the team that played out there. It was the team that had each other’s backs. They knew they weren’t the strongest, the fastest, or even the most predictable. But they knew — they all knew — they could be the best.
The doubters lit a fire in those guys. They believed in each other. They believed they could beat the odds. And they had to do it together.
This season, it’s not Adam Wainwright’s success that is inspiring such unity, but his departure. Inspiration is funny like that — it can come from anywhere, no matter how big or small, positive or negative. It just has to mean something. With Waino out, things have to change. And with the odds against them early, what I’m hearing from the 2011 Cards sounds much like that 2006 team.
Let the experts think we’re out of it. Let the competition think they’re back in. Meanwhile, let Wainwright’s story inspire, Berkman’s jokes amuse, and Pujols/Carpenter’s experience lead. Let the young guys step in, and each position player step up. It won’t be the one-two punch in the rotation that wins games, it’ll be the nine guys on the field, plus the guys in the dugout, the bullpen, the club house and the front office.
And don’t forget the fans in the front row, the nosebleeds, and the bleachers … and the living rooms. Because I believe the drama of this spring could be just the thing that brings the team back to life; a team that believes once again, despite all odds, that it can still be the best.
So come Opening Day, bring it. Oh, and Cincinnati? It’s so on.