Wearing special glove, Waino begins final spring slate

February 26th, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. – While inquiring minds were closely watching  to see if he would utilize the new PitchCom feature that allows hurlers to call their own pitches, the veteran Cardinals pitcher repeatedly peered into his glove for a drastically different reason on Saturday.

Stitched into the palm of his red Mizuno glove is a large heart with the signatures of Wainwright’s five children -- Baylie, Morgan, Macy, Sadee and Caleb -- inside of it. The idea for the signed glove came from Mizuno designers. Wainwright’s wife, Jenny, helped it come together by acquiring the autographs. She even got the scribbles from 3 1/2-year-old Caleb, who the couple adopted in 2019.

The family surprised Wainwright with the glove at Christmas as a keepsake. Wainwright surprised the family right back with the fact by vowing to use the signed glove through his final season as an MLB pitcher.

“That was all their natural signatures, too -- even Caleb scribbled his name on there,” Wainwright said with a big smile. “It reminds me who I’m playing for.”

With much of his family in the stands at Roger Dean Stadium on Saturday, the 41-year-old Wainwright opened his final Grapefruit League with a 40-pitch, two-inning start against the Nationals, to whom the Cardinals lost, 3-2

Wainwright surrendered three hits and one run while working on his fastball command and the movement on his changeup, but he did notch two strikeouts -- the second of which came on an elevated sinker that fooled CJ Abrams.

“You throw it slow enough and it’ll drop in there,” Wainwright joked of the 84.4 mph pitch that featured 31 inches of vertical break out of the hand of the 6-foot-7 righthander, per Baseball Savant.

As it turned out, Wainwright didn’t call any of his own pitches in Saturday’s opener after experimenting with the new PitchCom feature during live batting practice sessions earlier in the week. Instead, Wainwright wanted to get a feel of what it’s like having new catcher Willson Contreras call the game. 

Following Yadier Molina -- the catcher Wainwright teamed with for 17 years to set NL/AL records for starts (328) and victories (213) for a battery -- retired last year, the Cardinals signed Contreras to a five-year, $87 million free-agent deal. With Wainwright leaving soon to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, the veteran pitcher and his new catcher arrived at the Cardinals complex in Florida in late January to begin building chemistry.

“Both made it a point to get here and start that [relationship building], and they planned on being here so that [Contreras] could catch [Wainwright’s] ‘pens,” Cards manager Oliver Marmol said. “I think [their chemistry] will be really good going forward.”

Added Wainwright: “We’ve spent a fair amount of time at camp, having lunch and breakfast together and I’ve pitched to him a couple of times. The thing about it is he’s faced me a lot. He’s got a separate view of things than most catchers who would see me because he’s seen me pitch really well and not so well. He’s seen what’s really good for me and how I could use my stuff better maybe.”

Contreras, a three-time All-Star, went hitless in two at-bats on Saturday. However, his first drive left his bat at 104.4 mph and was caught in front of the left-center wall after the wind knocked it down.    

Before Wainwright took the mound on Saturday, much of the Cardinals pitching staff -- Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers -- lined up behind the veteran pitcher to take in his bullpen session. Last season, when Wainwright wore a microphone during an ESPN broadcast in August and discussed his routine before games, he said he got a rousing response online from youth coaches and players and he realized he still had plenty of knowledge left to impart on the game.

On Saturday, Wainwright was honored to have the staff watching him.

“That was cool,” admitted Wainwright, who enters his final MLB season needing five victories for 200. “I always react well to people, either negatively or positively [yelling at him], it pumps me up. Today they pumped me up big time. I felt very loved out there.”

Wainwright felt plenty of love on Saturday -- both from his fellow pitchers and from children Sadee and Caleb, who sprinted across the grass and hugged their father outside the Cardinals locker room as he was finishing up his postgame rehash. Seconds later, Wainwright shifted into full-on dad mode and was jogging around with the children and the glove that boasts their names.