April 2011 The Wright Man Clay Meyer
What started as a lump in my throat eventually worked its way down into my stomach as I read the ESPN.com headline. Something to the effect of, “Wainwright injures pitching elbow.”
“This can’t be good,” I thought.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had interviewed the Cardinals ace for our April cover story, and, as soon as I read the news, I knew we were going to have to make some adjustments to the magazine, which was already mid-production. But that internal knot wasn’t just the result of professional nerves; it was also the product of personal compassion.
The human side of me felt awful for Wainwright, who is a solid, sold-out man of God. The last thing I wanted was for him to get hurt. I wanted him to keep pitching well and thriving on the mound, using his gifts to bring glory to the Lord, which is something he loves to do.
After interviewing Wainwright over the phone while he and his family were driving to Florida for spring training, I’d written a story focusing on the lofty expectations he was shouldering this season and how his faith was helping him stay focused. Thus, when I learned that Wainwright would be having season-ending Tommy John surgery, I had to shake my head at the irony. All those expectations were going to go unmet—at least for now.
Deep down, I knew the Lord was in the situation, just as He is in the life of every athlete we feature. So, three weeks after our original interview, I had a follow-up conversation with Wainwright—one that had a far more serious tone. But, in our brief talk, I could hear the spiritual growth and maturity already taking root in Wainwright’s heart. It was the most difficult of circumstances for any pitcher, but clearly this wasn’t just “any pitcher.” This was, first and foremost, a man of faith.
Adam Wainwright - #50
| Team: St. Louis Cardinals|
Born: Aug. 30, 1981
Hometown: Brunswick, Ga.
Height/Weight: 6-7 / 230 lbs.
Major League Debut: Sept. 11, 2005
Family: Wife – Jenny
Children – Baylie Grace &
• 2006 World Series Champion
• 2009 Player’s Choice Award – NL Most
• 2009 Gold Glove Award
• 2010 NL All-Star
• Finished third and second, respectively,
in NL Cy Young balloting in 2009 and
• Tied for the major league lead in wins in
“There will be more time to talk about the injury down the road,” Wainwright said. “But I will tell you that I have found out more about myself in the last day or two with this injury than I have in the past five years combined.”
After I hung up the phone, I remembered how Wainwright had ended our first interview. He’d posed a very interesting question by asking, “What does my life mean if I’m not using it—something given to me by God—to promote the Kingdom?”
While it wasn’t what he—or any of us—planned, it was clear that this injury would fall into that agenda. As a Christ-follower, Wainwright knows that building the Kingdom is his calling from the Lord, and it’s straight from his favorite Bible verse, Acts 20:24 (NIV): “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
This injury will be a milestone in Wainwright’s testimony—a big stretch in his “race” of life. While Wainwright the Pitcher will certainly bounce back from this setback, Wainwright the Man of God doesn’t need to bounce back from anything. Because his identity is based in his status as a child of the Lord, Wainwright can and will continue to fulfill his Kingdom calling regardless of the circumstances.
So, here’s the story, largely in its original form. Because Wainwright’s message of faith has stayed the same on and off the field, we didn’t have to change much. Everything the Lord has done in his life to this point still serves as a powerful testament to His love and faithfulness. And, as the future unfolds, however it all plays out, we’ll look forward to adding more to Wainwright’s testimony and telling that story, too.
The transformation from boy to man is both simple and complicated. Ordinary and unusual. Agonizingly slow, yet miraculously quick. Adam Wainwright’s adolescent-to-adult path has fit each of those descriptions at one point or another in his baseball career—from his early struggles on the mound to his current success as an All-Star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“In my first years of pro ball, I was a doubter and a skeptic,” Wainwright said. “But there have been some key moments in my life that have made me realize that, without God, there is no possible way I’d be where I am today.”
The transformation of which Wainwright speaks has had little to do with what’s taken place on the field, though that has been significant. Instead, the changes he references are much deeper and personal, not visible through casual, public observation. To those who know him well, however, the transformation is evident.
Steve Hammond, who has been both a professional and personal friend as Wainwright’s agent, has seen the difference up close by walking with Wainwright through every season.
“When I first met Adam, he was just a high school kid pursuing a dream, still wet behind the ears,” Hammond said. “Today you see him, and he is more mature. He has a wife and kids, and he’s got a lot more things to deal with than when he was coming out of high school and just pursuing baseball.”
That kid out of Brunswick, Ga., has grown, matured, and changed since making a lessthan-stellar 2005 major league debut. Now, six years later, and with a World Series title and several other awards on his résumé, Wainwright has grown into a man. Not just in the physical sense as an intimidating 6’7” hurler, but in spiritual stature too, as a man of God—a facet that has improved not only his life but also his game.
“When I finally found a consistent mindset in my spiritual life, I was able to find a consistent professional life, too,” Wainwright said. “It doesn’t always work out like that, but for me it really made a huge difference. The balance of Christianity helps me a ton in my baseball life. Just like in baseball, I am going to mess up in my spiritual life, but I’m going to turn right back around. I’m not going to quit; I’ll ask for forgiveness and throw the next pitch.”
When Adam Wainwright tasted his first real dose of fame in the majors, tossing the final strike that sealed the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series title, he was in the middle of a radical life transformation that had begun several years earlier when he was in the minor leagues.
Being raised in a Christian home, faith had always been a part of Wainwright’s life, but an up-and-down baseball career to that point had made him skeptical as to whether or not the God he had known growing up really existed. If He was real, did He even care what was happening in Wainwright’s life.
“Growing up in the church, I knew the Bible, and I knew what people were supposed to say and the prayers to pray, but I didn’t have a relationship with Christ,” Wainwright said. “There was no seeking on my part whatsoever. I really started to doubt if there was a God and if He was real. And even if He was real, who was He?”
In 2002, Wainwright attended a Professional Athletes Outreach event at the encouragement of Hammond and several teammates. Being among Christians and hearing the gospel in an athletic setting, Wainwright’s personal faith was rejuvenated, and his focus shifted from baseball to Christ.
“I went there and was just blown away by the way everyone loved each other and by the crazy passion in the room,” Wainwright said. “I came away a completely changed person. I realized then that I had to make a life change. The moment I finally figured out that I didn’t have to be good enough for God was when I realized He was good enough for me.”
For their outstanding defensive performances, Wainwright and teammate Yadier Molina both received NL Gold Glove awards in 2009.
Hammond remembers seeing an immediate change in Wainwright after the PAO weekend.
“God really touched Adam’s heart at that event,” he said. “Adam knew God was calling him into relationship with Him, and he was going to step up to it. When he saw that this was the thing to do, he didn’t shy away from it; he allowed it to change his life. That’s the kind of person he is.”
After establishing a relationship with Christ and taking the first step, Wainwright admits that it took time for him to surrender his life entirely to the Lord. That was a change that took place following the 2005 season in which he played well enough to get a September callup to the big leagues.
While most players consider their MLB debuts to be savorable memories, Wainwright can’t forget his soon enough.
Coming into the game from the bullpen, he struggled through one inning, walking one batter and giving up two hits, including a three-run home run. His next relief appearance was better, but he was left off the Cardinals’ postseason roster and sent into the offseason in search of the secret to consistency on the hill.
“I just wasn’t ready mentally to be in the big leagues,” he said. “After I got home, I was in a boat in the middle of the lake behind my house, when I made another decision. I said that, from that point on, I was going to live every day for God. I was going to live every day like it was the last day I would ever live, pitch every game like it was the last one I would ever pitch, throw every inning like it was my last, and do it all for Christ.”
With a renewed approach to both life and baseball, things turned around for Wainwright the following season. He made the Cards’ Opening Day roster as a relief pitcher, and his new mindset helped him resurrect the pitching prowess that had once made him a top prospect. Throughout the season, he mowed down batters one after another and helped propel the Red Birds all the way to the World Series.
“When I finally put my faith in God, I started pitching with His strength and confidence instead of mine, and it really made my baseball career take off,” Wainwright said. “My pitching coach and manager saw a difference in me from the start of that year. When I made that commitment to treat every day like it was my last, I did it in every practice session, in every game and with every pitch. When I closed out the World Series, it was no big deal because I had the same mindset all year long.”
Entering the 2007 season, Wainwright’s mettle was tested once more when the coaching staff moved him into the starting rotation. He felt ready for the new role mentally, but it was a readjustment of sorts for his throwing arm.
FCA the ‘Wright’ Way
Wainwright addresses the crowd at the St. Louis FCA Day at the Ballpark in 2009.
When his MLB career began to take off, Adam Wainwright and his agent, Steve Hammond, began to talk about areas in which he could give back and help build the Kingdom of God. FCA was one of the first avenues that came to mind.
“FCA combines two things that I really love: sharing the Word of God and sports,” said Wainwright, who regularly speaks at the Cardinals’ annual FCA Day at the Ballpark.
“I love getting to kids through FCA so they can become fishers of men at a young age. God will allow those kids to have tremendous impact on generations to come.” For the past four years, Wainwright has also partnered with FCA in his hometown of Brunswick, Ga.—where he makes his home in the offseason—to host the annual Adam Wainwright FCA Golf Classic. The event has been a success from both ministry and fundraising perspectives since its inception in 2007.
“Adam is just a wonderful, down-to-earth guy who brings credibility to what we’re doing here in Georgia,” said David Gittings, Multi-Area Director for Georgia’s Golden Isles FCA. “We are grateful for his impact with the golf tournament, but we’re more grateful for his friendship with the ministry. People always say he is a great ambassador for FCA. He embodies what a Christian athlete ought to be.”
With the popularity of the event at an all-time high, this year’s tournament is set to be played on two courses in December, which will allow the competition field to double in size. But even with the growth and the event’s high-profile speakers and guests, it is still the desire of the tournament’s namesake to keep the purpose and vision the same.
“The golf tournament has been tremendous,” Wainwright said. “Everyone in our community has put this thing together, and the FCA staff has done so much work every year. I continue to pray that, as it grows, we stay focused on the purpose of building it up for the Kingdom and not for anything of ourselves.”
For more information on the Adam Wainwright FCA Golf Classic and Golden Isles FCA, visit goldenislesfca.org. Also, check out stlfca.org for more on FCA in the St. Louis area.
“When I was in the minors, I started every year, so switching back into that role wasn’t a big transition; it was just taxing on my arm,” he said. “With my new thought-process of pitching, I was finally ready to start at that level. At that point I had faced just about every situation you could face, so there was no situation in which I didn’t feel comfortable.”
In the course of that season and the one that followed, Wainwright emerged as one of the Cards’ most reliable starters, leading the pitching staff in several statistical categories. And, in 2009, Wainwright elevated his game to yet another level.
That year he finished the season with 19 wins—tying him with three others for the most in the majors—and a perfect fielding percentage, for which he earned his first NL Gold Glove Award. Wainwright’s counterparts also selected him to receive the Player’s Choice Award as the NL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, and he finished third in the league’s Cy Young balloting, receiving the most first-place votes.
Wainwright followed up his impressive 2009 season by turning in another dominating performance in 2010. For his efforts, he was selected as an NL All-Star and went on to win 20 games—both career firsts—and, for the second consecutive year, he came close to one of the league’s most prestigious awards by finishing as the first runner-up in the NL Cy Young voting.
Rather than sulking, though, Wainwright used both Cy Young shortcomings as motivation to prepare for the future.
“When you constantly find yourself almost reaching the highest level, it does add extra incentive to get ready for the next season,” Wainwright said. “The Cy Young doesn’t represent me as a man at all. In what I do, if you are second, you are still pretty good. As a team, we want to win, and I personally want to win, too. But if I finish second every year in the Cy Young, the people in St. Louis will be happy because that will mean I’m pitching pretty well.”
Coming into the 2011 season, Wainwright and the Cardinals werefocused on getting back to the playoffs and chasing down another set of World Series rings. Projected to be the Opening Day starter when the regular season began, Wainwright was embracing the annual trip to Jupiter, Fla., as a time to connect with family and teammates when his plans suddenly changed.
Just two weeks into training, he felt pain in his pitching arm while throwing batting practice and consulted team doctors. The results were serious. They revealed torn ligaments in his elbow, and Wainwright was forced to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
It was a turn of events that added a new dimension to Wainwright’s desire to be a strong witness of faith, which he’d revealed just weeks earlier.
“I feel like God is preparing me to be able to share Him with others more often and more easily,” he’d said prior to the injury. “He’s given me great opportunities and put me in several situations where I know that, in the past, I would have folded or not been prepared. He’s given me a heart now to be prepared.”
While Wainwright couldn’t have guessed what lay ahead, he can look back now and see that the Lord was already at work in the preparation process, stirring divine courage and strength inside him for a time in which he’d need it most.
Despite the injury, Wainwright knows the Lord’s joy is available regardless of the circumstance. One aspect in which he continues to delight is in the love and support he’s found in St. Louis. He’s thrilled by the fact that the Midwest has embraced the small-town Georgia boy who has grown up right before them.
The missteps of the once-inexperienced pitcher are in the past, and Wainwright’s perspective on life and his game paint a clear picture of what is to come: blessings from God, regardless of whether or not he’s on the mound throwing strikes or in the dugout cheering on his team.
When pressed for what he believes the future holds for his client and friend, Hammond replied thoughtfully, “I feel like the way God has wired him, he will continue to work hard and compete to be the best that he can as one of the top pitchers in baseball. Off the field, I see him continuing to grow as a Christian and seeing where God leads him to be of the best use. I’m anxious to see what his drive to impact more people will look like in the future and how it will all unfold.”
According to Wainwright’s philosophy, it may unfold like this: one day at a time, one game at a time, one pitch at a time, and doing it all for the glory of God.
|BRINGING IT HOME
“[God has] given me great opportunities and put me in several situations where I know that, in the past, I would have folded or not been prepared,”Wainwright said. “He’s given me a heart now to be prepared.”
In the course of his major league career, Adam Wainwright has matured both as a pitcher and as a man of God. Since he first surrendered his life to Christ as a minor-leaguer, Wainwright has cultivated the kind of spiritual depth and understanding that provides peace in all of life’s storms.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Wainwright admits he started off skeptical about Christianity. But through a timely outreach event, the young pitcher heard the gospel of Christ and made the decision to turn his life completely over to Him.
Maybe you’re in that same position today—unsure about Christ and how His life impacts yours. If so, you’re not alone. Thousands of people ask those same questions every day and, like Wainwright, discover that the Bible is true, and that the same message of salvation applies to them. They just have to decide whether or not to believe the gospel and accept it.
That gospel is this: More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, lived a sinless life, died and rose again in order to pay the penalty for our sins and secure our eternity in Heaven. Through placing our faith in Him as Lord and Savior and beginning a relationship with Him, we are saved from the eternal consequences of our mistakes.
No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, the blood that Jesus shed on the cross can cover every one of your sins. All you must do is receive His free gift of salvation and begin living for Him according to Scripture. You can start that journey right now by calling out to Him in prayer and asking for forgiveness and new life. It’s that simple.
Take it from Adam Wainwright, who now lives in the freedom of knowing he is loved and forgiven by God, and has the kind of peace and joy that can’t be found in any source on earth—not even in World Series titles.
If you want to begin a relationship with Christ but don’t know how or where to start, go online to morethanwinning.org or call FCA’s National Support Center at 1-800-289-0909.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Courtesy of Scott Rovak and Dan Donovan/St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis FCA; Golden Isles Photography; Jim Herren; Scott Rovak and Scott Rovak