Three Cheers For Waino!

As a Cardinals fan first and an Adam Wainwright fan (a close) second, much of the build up surrounding Spring Training had to do with having Waino back. It doesn’t get much better than watching him pitch when he’s on. Not many things give me more joy than seeing even the best

Photo via Flicker, credit to Harsh1.0

sluggers in the game stymied by a curveball that starts at their eyes and drops to their ankles. When Spring Training started, I couldn’t wait to see some of that.

Then, when I first heard the idea of Carlos Beltran coming to St. Louis, my initial reaction was, “Bet he’ll be happy to be on the other side of Waino’s 12-6 curve!”

Don’t lie, you were thinking it, too. That image of a frozen Beltran and a celebrating Cardinals’ squad is seared into our memories permanently. That moment has served as great entertainment since then, too. So it was only natural to wonder how awkward that first conversation between the two would be.

Would someone bring it up? Would Beltran find it humorous? How might that impact the dynamic between the players?

We’ve all learned this off season that baseball is, in no uncertain terms, a business. But, even knowing that, the past doesn’t simply go away because of a business decision that brought former rivals together.

Still, we were all itching to see how the story would play out. And, as fate would have it, to see this:

Looks like Carlos got his first taste of the hopefully new-and-improved Adam Wainwright in Tuesday’s Bating Practice session.

Okay, so Waino wasn’t really trying to buckle his knees or anything. Neither one is stuck on that Cards-vs.-Mets moment these days. But there’s no point in denying that it crossed our minds! And I’ll bet it crossed theirs, too.

In all seriousness, though, it’s refreshing to see the way Spring Training has gone thus far. It’s good to see guys having fun, and it’s also good to hear Mike Matheny talking about the shape the team is in. It’s great to see guys working hard, proving their worth.

And it’s especially good to see Waino on that mound.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote a telling piece yesterday regarding Wainwright’s return. It chronicled last season, starting with Opening Day.

Yes, it was entertaining — Adam showed up in a fully customized cheerleading outfit, skirt, ribbons, pom poms, and all. He traveled to every game, sat in the dugout, played out his purely emotional role — all things we knew. But, what the reminder did was put into perspective what he meant to this team then, and still means now.

Little did anyone imagine that the Cardinals would win the World Series — or that Wainwright, in Holliday’s words, would be “as big a part of the team as a guy who didn’t play a single game could have been.”

Wainwright is pitching again this spring, preparing to resume his place in the Cardinals’ rotation. But all these months later, the Cardinals can’t stop talking about Wainwright’s contributions during their championship run.

In the shadow of a St. Louis “hero” leaving, and despite the buzz of Yadier Molina’s somewhat controversial recent comments, we have Adam Wainwright. A guy who didn’t play a single game last season, but yet took upon himself the responsibility of keeping spirits up. A guy who gave his all in rehab, convinced he’d get a chance to pitch in the postseason. A guy who never hesitates to credit his teammates, or praise the club he’s come to adore.

In a sports world full of “what’s in it for me” kind of athletes, his perspective is a refreshing twist.

And as Rosenthal said, his teammates are quick to point that out. MVP David Freese said of his the pitcher,

“When you look to your right and see Adam Wainwright in your clubhouse, it’s just a blessing. I’m not talking about the 20 wins or the sub-3.00 ERA. I’m talking about having a relationship with that type of person.”

We already knew Wainwright was a Cy Young kind of pitcher. Getting him back in the rotation is, as many have said, like signing a big-name free agent in the off season. If all goes according to plan, the Redbirds are getting that mind-boggling curveball back, and a pitcher with the determination to do just about anything he sets his mind to. Plus, the greatest kind of clubhouse leader you could ever want.

If I was Carlos Beltran, I’d be happy to be a teammate of Waino’s for more reason than one!

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

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