St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — Months ago when I mentioned to Hall of Fame father of five Adam Wainwright that I would be needing some girl dad advice, the Cardinals legend punctuated a congratulations with what became one wise prediction.
You won’t believe, Wainwright said, all the ways you will change.
Our little one won’t be here for a while still, but I couldn’t help but think of that line from Wainwright last week as he took the mound and took aim at career win No. 200.
I was supposed to be watching from Busch Stadium’s press box.
Instead the game was playing out on a half-ignored TV in a hospital room.
Before we go forward, everything is fine.
A scare led to some tests. Then some more tests. What my wife, Cassandra, and I figured would be a short check-in turned into an overnight stay and then some.
We’re home now. Mom’s good. Baby, too. Making sure that remains the case until our daughter joins us has become the most important thing, even if it means missing a game or two.
Wainwright wasn’t kidding about this dad stuff. You do change. Before they’re even born.
Plans to be at the ballpark to witness Wainwright throw a few more of his signature hooks at Father Time had been absolute and concrete — until they dissolved and disappeared. Instead my most important that job that day was making some nervous, long hours go by a little faster. Nothing heroic. Cassandra’s got that part of this story handled. My duties included things like spending a small fortune at the hospital cafeteria and running home for some clean clothes and preferred pillows. We talked a lot and walked a little. Mostly, we just waited for reassuring news that fortunately came. Wainwright helped.
I’m a little hesitant to admit this here, but this is one of those rare overly personal columns, so here goes.
Cassandra is a Cubs fan. A big one. Not one of those new ones who popped up after their World Series championship, either. A lifer.
She has only given one single inch since being moved to Cardinal Nation by yours truly. That inch is Adam Wainwright.
He wore her down with his humble humor. He won her over with his grit and will. His first-ballot likability added up. I realized it seasons ago, when few objections about a Cardinals game appearing on TV were voiced as long as it was Wainwright out there on the mound.
So, that night in that hospital room, we turned on that Cardinals game to see if 42-year-old Wainwright could clinch 200.
We didn’t watch as much as we caught snippets in between more pressing matters.
But Wainwright had that look, didn’t he? He was getting better as he went. He was a horse headed for the barn. His defense was all-in. His catcher kept one fair. His manager came out, then retreated. Then it really was on the bullpen to finish it out. Would it hold?
Radio had to take it from there.
It was time, thankfully, to go home.
That’s not an invitation you delay.
The first voice we heard after exiting the parking garage was the newest member of baseball’s 200-win club.
Wainwright thanked God. He thanked his wife and daughters and son for their sacrifices made during his marathon career. He thanked the fans who have stuck by him during this trying final season. The fans kept thanking him back. In a season where so much has gone wrong, what a moment.
Cardinals fans and followers have been through a lot of life with Wainwright. There have been the sweetest of highs and, yes, some lows. Albert Pujols got the Hollywood treatment, where all the bad was edited out when he was out in California before his return. Wainwright went through it all right here. There’s something special about that. It hardly happens these days. It may never happen again.
How many people, I wondered during that night’s drive home, have been in a hospital room watching Wainwright pitch? A bunch, I imagine. He’s been on in a lot of those backgrounds, hasn’t he? For big, happy moments. For quiet, sad ones, too. He has 200 wins, but he has a whole lot more examples of snippets provided of whatever it is — relief, distraction, familiarity, all of the above? — that we search for when we turn on that baseball game in a stressful setting.
And how many people has Wainwright helped? I’m not talking about his dedicated charity work and his years of mentorship to baseball teammates. I’m talking about people in hospital beds or nursing home rooms who have been faced with scary news instead of reassuring news, people who were fighting life-and-death battles, people who just wanted to turn on that TV and see a face they felt like they knew.
I’m glad Wainwright kept going on his quest for 200 wins, for them and for him.
One day, after I’m done telling my daughter why her mom is a hero, I’ll tell her about why Wainwright is so admired in our house.
I’ll tell her about why missing his 200th win was the right call, and how the pitcher known for his famous curveball predicted the first of many changeups coming for her dad.
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