As great of an on-field impact as Adam Wainwright has had in his 15 seasons with the Cardinals, the work he has done off the field is what he hopes will be his most lasting legacy.
“Just being nominated, it’s never why we do any of it,” Wainwright said. “But it is a really cool honor. It’s probably the coolest honor out there, honestly, because there’s just so much more to this life than this game of baseball. As a humanitarian, Roberto Clemente set the bar, and we’re just trying to live up to that and use this platform we got.”
Wainwright’s platform is his status as one of the greatest Cardinals pitchers in franchise history. He is a part of two World Series championship teams, a three-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and he twice led the National League in wins. He turned 39 this year, throwing a complete game on his birthday, and he has shepherded the Cards through a strange 2020. After beating the Cubs on Saturday, he has a 2.68 ERA and is 4-0 to start a season for the first time in his career.
Through all of those successes -- and the struggles, too -- Wainwright has repeatedly said he wants his legacy to be centered around his work off the field. With his brother, Trey, in 2013, Wainwright founded Big League Impact to help people meet basic human needs. The organization has grown from a local fantasy football draft to partnerships across baseball, the country and the world. Since 2013, Big League Impact and its community have raised over $5.2 million for charitable causes.
“Adam Wainwright is a difference-maker on and off the field,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “The residual value that Adam brings to our clubhouse is well documented. I think more importantly to Adam, as much as we love what we do here, is his dedication to his faith and his dedication to using his platform to help others. I have a lot of admiration for how he goes about his life, and his heart for people is a tremendous example for me and everyone.”
In 2019, Wainwright reached out to country music singer Garth Brooks and enlisted his help in getting involved in the St. Louis area. It led to their foundations creating the MLB-backed Home Plate Project that pairs two players per team with feeding partners in their market to address childhood food insufficiency. It was scheduled to launch for its second year this fall.
The coronavirus pandemic changed things.
“Understanding that lots of kids were only eating at school was just a completely earth-shattering moment for me,” Wainwright said. “And this year, when school got shut down because of COVID, the first thought was, ‘Oh my goodness, what are these kids going to eat?’"
Brooks, Wainwright and Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson, who is the vice president of Big League Impact, were asked by MLB to accelerate the timetable for the Home Plate Project and began spreading the word in late March to teammates, who passed along the message throughout the league. At least one player from every team responded, and in all, $937,100 was raised on short notice. All-Stars like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Albert Pujols are among the players who donated. Wainwright and Paul Goldschmidt were the ones to help from the Cardinals.
The nearly $1 million helped provide more than 4 million meals to kids. In St. Louis, $122,250 was distributed to Operation Food Search, Crisis Aid and the St. Louis Area Foodbank, resulting in over 200,000 meals.
Wainwright found what he had wanted to do to help the world, and he has stuck with it throughout his career. As he became a veteran in the game, he realized he had another passion -- helping other players find what they want to do. That’s really the goal of Big League Impact: Partnering with professional players and using their ideas to help people. Wainwright works with over two dozen players to bring their charitable ideas to life.
“One of my sayings that I have when I talk to guys is, ‘We only get this platform for a few years. Might as well stand on it,’” Wainwright said. “That’s what I’m trying to do, is not waste the opportunity to go out into the world and do great things and help empower other guys to go out there and catch that same vision. What I love doing -- I’ve found my passion, but let me try to help you find yours. At Big League Impact, that’s really what we’re trying to do.”