English heritage has Waino extra proud to pitch in London

June 23rd, 2023

LONDON -- Just as Cardinals pitcher and catcher were playing tourist aboard a double-decker bus and about to learn about London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral – one of the world’s largest and tallest domes since its construction began in the 17th century – they were interrupted by some good-natured trash talk.

Down below the bus stood a blue-clad Cubs fan – opposition for Wainwright, Contreras and the Cardinals this weekend in the 2023 London Series – and she gave a disapproving thumbs down motion at the sight of the iconic Cardinals pitcher and the former Cubs catcher.

The ever-playful Wainwright happily interrupted the history lesson and the sightseeing tour for some good-natured trash talk with the fan of the rival.

“If you pull for a team that only wins it all every 150 years, you must be a great fan,” Wainwright said, referencing the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series title drought in 2016. When the fan informed Wainwright that the Cubs would be winning the weekend series, Wainwright responded with this: “All I know is they’re leaving with an ‘L’ on Saturday. Have a great trip!”

Trying to make the most out of their four-day journey to the UK to face the rival Cubs on Saturday and Sunday at London Stadium, Wainwright and Contreras took time out for a guided bus tour of some of England’s most impressive landmarks on Friday morning. While on the topless double-decker bus, the pitcher and catcher marveled at the majestic London Tower Bridge, gawked at St. Paul’s Cathedral and pointed toward Big Ben.

Most of all, they thought about how fortunate they were to see a different part of the world because they play baseball. Contreras, a native of Venezuela, said he never even thought of travelling to Great Britain, but he’s already considering a return visit in the offseason.

“This is really cool, and I’m just thankful to be a part of this trip because I’m seeing stuff I never would have seen before,” said Contreras, who was set to play in the Cards-Cubs series in London in 2020 before it was moved to this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “When I signed with the Cardinals, I didn’t even know we were coming here, but I’m excited I got to come. It’s really cool to get to play baseball in a different country.”

By making the journey to England and playing two games for the approximately 59,000 fans expected to pack London Stadium on Saturday and Sunday, Contreras said he is hopeful that the Cardinals can help to grow the sport throughout the country. Being considered an ambassador of the game is a distinction he considers to be a great honor.

“I know in the United Kingdom, soccer is the main sport, but I think baseball is really growing in this part of the world,” Contreras said, pointing to England’s participation in the World Baseball Classic back in March.

In 18 seasons with the Cardinals, the 41-year-old Wainwright has accomplished almost every feat baseball has to offer, between winning a World Series in 2006, starting an All-Star Game in 2014 and closing in on 200 career wins. When he starts Saturday night’s game, Wainwright will tie Zack Greinke, Rich Hill and Aroldis Chapman for competing in the most countries among active pitchers with four. Previously, Wainwright has pitched in Monterrey, Mexico, (2019) along with Canada and the U.S.

“It’s good for baseball to market the game, but this is good for me to get out and see these things and experience them, because I’ve never been across the pond before,” said Wainwright, who enters Saturday’s start with 198 career wins. “Coming over here is a cool opportunity for me to meet a lot of nice people and play on a stage I’ve never played on.”

Years ago, Wainwright said he took a genealogy test and it revealed that more than 90 percent of his family’s lineage could be traced back to England. Considering that history, Wainwright said he didn’t even consider skipping Friday’s bus tour, even though he had slept just four hours the night before because of difficulty adjusting to the time change.

“Wainwright means ‘wagon maker’ in olde English, so I had to come back and see where all my kinfolk were serfs back in the day,” he joked.

“I’ve gotten to go all around our country and play in these cool cities around the world, and I’m certainly not short on knowledge of how incredible this game has been for me and my journey,” said Wainwright, who plans to retire at season’s end. “Baseball is a wonderful game, and I think when people over here see the game, I think they will fall in love with it like we have.”