St. Louis Cardinal hurler Adam Wainwright showed up to the Winter Warm Up Saturday looking fit and ready to go for the 2012 season. After signing autographs for a good number of fans in attendance, it only took a couple sentences into his session with the media to confirm he was, in fact, ready to pitch come Opening Day.
But first, the big question that’s really on everyone’s mind: What does he think of that one quarterback in Denver?
“I am obsessed with Tim Tebow, and I’m not afraid to say it,” Wainwright said. “It’s almost embarrassing to us athletes that this much attention has been put on Tim Tebow because that means we aren’t living our lives like we should.” Wainwright was stunned when he was watching the news one night and while talking about prospective GOP presidential candidates in 2012, the broadcasters mentioned Tim Tebow “about 50 times in a 30 minute span.” Wainwright is very vocal about how proud he is of Tebow and even deliberated missing an event with Tony La Russa Saturday night just to watch the Broncos play the Patriots. So is Tim Tebow the face of football right now? “I feel like he is the face of sports right now and rightfully so,” Wainwright said. “He gives the whole nation something to believe in.”
Well, some in towns with rival NFL teams may have arguments to the contrary. But in St. Louis, the question on everyone’s mind goes back to the health of Wainwright’s surgically repaired elbow.
“The arm is feeling great,” Wainwright said, adding that he’s “kind of worried I’m too far along…(I’m) going to feel fresh and ready to go, and they’re probably going to pull the reins on me a little bit in the beginning.” Wainwright has already begun throwing in Florida so Spring Training will feel normal, rather than how it might feel with a different routine coming off a year lost to Tommy John Surgery. When asked about his readiness for the start of the regular season, Wainwright says he’ll be able to pitch but hinted the role of rotation ace may belong to someone else for now. ”I’ll be ready for Game 2, or whatever they tell me,” he said with a grin.
Wainwright said he is already throwing breaking balls with ease, though that’s not what causes the most stress during the healing process—letting a fastball fly is. He also felt like his command was there before his velocity was but that neither should be an issue early on in the 2012 campaign.
Earlier in the day, General Manager John Mozeliak commented on Wainwright’s recovery and reintegration into the Cards’ rotation. He anticipated 150-175 innings for Wainwright in 2012 depending on the number of high-leverage situations and high-stress innings were mixed in. But the hurler rejected that mentality. “150 innings sounds like half a season,” Wainwright said. “If I’m making all my starts, I just don’t see how that’d be possible. But he is the boss, so at the end of the day you defer to him. But any pitcher who’s out there competing their tail off and is decent at what they do should throw more than 150 innings, so that would never ever be a goal of mine. I’ve kind of refrained from setting and goals, especially this year.”
Wainwright feels like he is one of the leaders on this team, a role that may be expanded now that Albert Pujols has departed. And the season lost to injury has taught him that he definitely loves to pitch, and isn’t ready to quit. He searched for ways to satisfy his competitive hunger, but the limitations of his rehab relegated the star pitcher to playing games on his cell phone. Wainwright said one of the benefits of all the time off was some additional healing in other areas of his body, including strengthening the structure of his throwing shoulder and eliminating some soreness in his Achilles. That should bode well for the hurler’s future health the further he gets from the Tommy John procedure.
And speaking of the future, the Cardinals did pick up Wainwright’s two year option. But he said no long-term extension has been discussed with the team at all. Wainwright thinks the team probably won’t initiate such contact until they see he’s healthy, adding “But if I go out there rolling, they better get going quick!” with a chuckle.
“I want to finish my career here,” Wainwright continued. “Everybody that stays here wants to finish their career here. With St. Louis, people call it Baseball Heaven. We kind of have it like that. I’m very blessed to play in St. Louis.”