JUPITER, Fla. — The final image of Adam Wainwright last season was of him standing on the top step of the St. Louis Cardinals’ dugout, gnashing his teeth as he watched the Boston Red Sox celebrate their first World Series victory at home in 95 years.
If you are a Red Sox fan, you found that fact to be something special, at least sentimental. The Sox have now won three Series titles in the last 10 years, but the last time they celebrated a championship on their turf, in ancient Fenway Park, was in 1918 when Babe Ruth pitched for Boston.
Wainwright is not the least bit sentimental about such things — unless, of course, it involves the Cardinals. In all likelihood, the Cardinals wouldn’t have made it to the series last year if it had not been for Wainwright’s pitching, to say nothing about the impact of his presence in the clubhouse.
This year, the pitching staff has a handful of new faces. They are young kids with good arms, the types with good futures — but they are also precocious kids, whose careers and performances can be enhanced by a veteran teammate like Wainwright, a Brunswick native.
What they are hearing from Wainwright is that the Cardinals can not only return to the series, but find a way to win it all. When they departed here last week a World Series championship was on their collective minds.
In recent years, the Cardinals have been annually competitive, consistently finding their way into the playoffs.
Beginning with 2000, the Cardinals have won two World Series, lost twice in the series (2013 and 2004) and lost in the league championship series six times.
Only in four years during the last 13 did they not make the playoffs.
If they reach the playoffs this year, it will be Wainwright who will lead them to whatever level they reach. You will find him impressing all observers with his work ethic, due diligence, character and integrity. He has a big money contract, but he has a caring attitude. He supports limitless charities on St. Simons, including his church and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Boston’s success rankles Wainwright in that he did not play his best in the fall classic in 2013. With the game on the line, he wants the ball in his hands. In the past, it was as if he had written the script in such critical situations. He began his St. Louis career by hitting the first pitch he saw for a home run in 2006, becoming No. 22 in MLB history to enjoy that experience.
He is built, mentally and emotionally, for clutch time. Also, in 2006, he struck out Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded to get the Cardinals to the World Series, where he struck out Detroit third baseman Brandon Ingle in game five to clinch the series for St. Louis.
Big League life has been big for Adam even though he had to miss most of the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery. He had won 20 games in 2010 and made the All-Star team. In 2011, he rehabbed and watched his team win a World Series ring for him while he was on the bench. That was not his preferred way, but he is proud to show off both of his World Series rings.
Winning one would be enough for most players, but Wainwright believes he is with a team that should get to the ultimate series each year and win it, which is why he lingered on the dugout steps last fall as if to say to the Red Sox, “Just wait till we have another opportunity.”
From the days when his older brother Trey built a mound in the backyard of their home in Brunswick and taught him to pitch, Adam has been a multi-talented athlete who enjoyed praiseworthy success.
He played basketball at Glynn Academy — you would expect him to excel with his 6-foot-7 frame; he was All State in football as a receiver (nice target for a quarterback).
And don’t forget: He has two gold gloves and counting.
None of that is important to him, however, since it is in the past. Adam Wainwright wants another World Series ring, and he wants to get it when the game is on the line with the ball in his hands.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.