At 40, Waino reflects on Cards career ... and Yadi's singing?

May 25th, 2022

In a recent sit-down with at Citi Field, Cardinals right-hander talks about pitching to catcher Yadier Molina, his love for baseball and pitching at the age of 40. You are having a productive season at age 40. Why is that the case?

Adam Wainwright: It’s not impossible. Look at what is doing, coming right (after) Tommy John at 39 years old. Guys like that are inspirations to me. You look around and you say, "All right, [Verlander] is almost one year younger than I am, still dominating, probably still leading the Cy Young race over [in the American League]."

Guys like that who continue to do well just show me that I can do it, too. Obviously, he has way better stuff than I do. It’s fun to see guys who have been good for a long time still be good and not give in to that age thing that people just assume you are not going to be good as you get older. I don’t buy into that. Not at all. I wish I was as clever as I am now. I was pretty tricky, but I’m a lot more tricky now. That’s part of growing up. It’s part of getting older and becoming more wise to the game and being able to pick up on things a little faster. You said something very interesting. You said you know things now more than when you were younger. What’s the biggest thing you learned now that you didn’t know when you were younger?

Wainwright: One thing I really learned is to be comfortable in my own skin, be comfortable in what I do as a pitcher and not try to be anybody else. There were a few years there -- probably like 2016, 2017 and 2018 when I was injured a little bit -- even when I was in the prime of my career, I would watch other pitchers and try to replicate what they were doing. Sometimes that’s good. You always want to keep moving the needle and try to become better.

Now I’m OK throwing an 86 mile an hour fastball every now and then. … Mad Dog (Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux) really helped me with this. He made me realize what I do is make pitches. I’m a professional pitch maker and being OK with whatever the velocity looks like getting there, getting on the corner, getting it in the location I’m trying to throw it. That is the main thing, executing pitches like Roy Halladay used to say. So there was a point you would think, my fastball has to be 100, stuff like that, right?

Wainwright: Well, I had a teammate, Carlos Martínez, who can sit 100 if he wanted to, just incredible stuff. I was watching the reaction from the hitters, the reaction of my teammates. It was, “Oh, man. Look at Carlos. He is doing such great things.” And I’m going, “I have to try to throw harder. I have to try and do this,” instead of just being really good at what I was doing.

Watching a guy like Kyle Hendricks is a real testimony to that. He is so fun to watch. He will go out there and throw 70% fastballs at 86, 87 miles an hour and throw a shutout on 85 pitches. If you are pitching and you’re changing speeds, changing location and you are throwing in the corners, it almost doesn’t matter how hard you throw. Is there a stat out there that lets you know that you are having a good year?

Wainwright: I think you look at the traditional ones. This was a conversation I had with the Braves guys -- (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz. They all had different opinions. Smoltzy wanted to lead the league in innings. Maddux wanted to lead the league in ERA and Glavine wanted to lead the league in wins. All of them have their merits. … But at the end of the day, the win is still the most important stat in the game of baseball. If I have 30 wins at the end of this year, I’ll be just fine with it. You are close to 200 wins. How do you feel about getting there?

Wainwright: I feel good about wanting to do it. (Laughing) Sometimes you can’t affect how those wins come out. You can go out and throw a one-run game, pitch eight innings and lose the game if you are pitching against the wrong guy. But most of the time and you are … going deep into the game, you are going to give your team a chance to win that game. That’s the main thing for me. Every year, I want to lead the league in innings. I kind of lean on that innings number (as well) a little bit. I want to lead the league in innings this year. I missed a start already, which bothers me a little bit, but that means I have to go deep in the games from now on. If you lead the league in innings, usually, you are going to have a chance to win more games.

(Former teammate) Woody Williams told me when I was rookie, “If you want to win a game, you have to go at least seven innings.” I hope people get back to that mindset because five and dodge is not it. Every time I read about you, Georgia, your home state, is always mentioned. Do you think about what might have been with the Braves?

Wainwright: No. Whatever would have been with the Braves would not have topped what we have been able to accomplish in St. Louis. My time in St. Louis is so special to me. That was a trade that worked out for me in so many ways. I can't even believe it. I love being in the Midwest. I love being in St. Louis. The city of St. Louis has adopted my family. My wife loves it in St. Louis. The kids love it in St. Louis. I don’t look back on anything of what might have been. Everything that happened in the past has led me where I am today. It’s not hard to complain about being a Major League pitcher at 40 years old. You made your mark in St. Louis. What are you most proud of?

Wainwright: Just being part of one of the best eras in Cardinals baseball is a big deal. We’ve had a pretty good run of playoff teams, World Series teams, championship teams for a long time. Most of the years I’ve been here, we had a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for. Being on a winning team, that's just as much as you can ask for. The thing I remember most was, you were a closer earlier in your career. Did you ever think about being a great closer?

Wainwright: I think I could have been OK for a while as a closer for sure. But I'm glad to be starting. I think starting is the best job in the history of the world. A starting pitcher in the big leagues, it doesn’t get better than that. That is the best job in the world. It’s the best job for your golf game. How do you figure that?

Wainwright: When you are relieving every day, you might not want to walk 18 holes at Oakmont or Winged Foot (golf course). You want to save some energy. But when you are starting, you know when you are pitching. You know you have a few days in between where you can work out, run and all that stuff. You have a few days in between where you have some days where you go out in the morning and have some fun. We played in some cities where the golf courses were remarkable. It’s good to get out there. You have been with the Cardinals your entire Major League career. Talk about having on your side

Wainwright: He has been more than a friend and teammate to me. He has been a brother to me. The guy I have gotten so close with. How fortunate am I to throw to the best defensive catcher of all time my entire career? We are (the winningest battery), which set the all-time record the other day. I have 189 wins personally. All but 15 of my wins have been with Yadi. That’s kind of crazy when you think about it. Tell me something about Yadi that people don’t know about?

Wainwright: I have a great answer for that. Yadi is a Puerto Rican guy. He is very proud of his country, very proud of his heritage. But you know what he really loves? Country music. You know who he really loves? The Zac Brown Band. He knows every song and every word by the Zac Brown Band and most of Luke Bryan’s songs, too. We went to the Zac Brown concert a couple of years ago, and Yadi sang every song as loud as he could. It was just a great time. Most people don’t know that about Yadi. Can you imagine life without him?

Wainwright: I don’t want to imagine life without him. I never even thought about it. He’s my catcher, man. I know you had COVID, recently. I had COVID myself. How disappointing was that?

Wainwright: The disappointing thing was, I had it in January. I got pretty sick (then). I was three days of flu-like symptoms, I was hot, cold, fever. Two days after that, I had no energy whatsoever -- standup, head rush, lay back down. I was zapped.

The thing that disappointed me this time was that I didn’t have a single symptom. Not a sniffle. I never would have known that I had Covid if I hadn’t been a contact tracer to somebody and had to get tested. But the good thing is, you take a start off. I could look at it and really be upset. I didn’t do that. I look at it as an opportunity. I got my body to completely rest and took a start off. My back feels great. Knees feel great. Arm feels great. I was able to get everything right in the training room and be ready for the next start because it’s a long season. Who knows? I’ll probably be close to 32 starts, hopefully. How much do you have left in the tank?

Wainwright: I have no idea. I might have one start left. I might have 20 starts left. I try not to think about it. I stay in the present. I might have 50 starts. I’m not sure. What I try to do is stay where I’m at because every time I look forward too far and start planning for the future, I have a setback. Every time [I] look back and I think I should have done blah, blah, blah different, then I take my eyes off the present. I don’t get as much out of what I’m doing or where I’m at. I just live where I am. Lessons learned in the past lead me to where I’m at right now. Don’t get too far into the future. Just enjoy where I am. I noticed you are jolly. Where did you get your personality?

Wainwright: A lot of different ways to get that. I was raised in a happy house. My mom did a great job raising me. My brothers are great influences in my life. I always like having fun. I have great friends surrounding me. I live life with a passion for living with the Lord. He instilled that in me. When I wake up in the morning, I look outside and say, “Man what a creation this is. What a beautiful day this is.” I think that’s the way we are supposed to live. Enjoying what we have been blessed with, enjoying our surroundings and the people we are around, doing interviews with people like you.

All these things that come with baseball come with living this life. For me, I’m a Major League Baseball player for one of the best organizations in the history of baseball. Since I’ve been 3 years old, the only thing I wanted to do in the world was play baseball for a living. So, why would I not be jolly? Golly, I get to live that out.