The Cardinal Way

Adam Wainwright’s 2011 season had ended before it began. On the first day of spring training, on the very first day of batting practice, he blew his arm out.

“It was one of those things that was just hard to believe,” Wainwright says. “We had literally just started spring training and, on the first day of BP, I completely blow my arm out. The pain was just excruciating and I couldn’t even lift a shampoo bottle with my throwing arm for a long time. It was very disappointing at first because we were all coming into camp, ready for a new season to start. And, suddenly, my season was really over before it began.”

Despite the devastating injury, though, Wainwright had something that helped him through everything.

“It’s never a good thing when you have an injury and the doctors tell you that you’ll be out for the season,” he says. “That’s something that no athlete wants to hear. But the amazing thing is that, through Christ, I was able to adjust to that situation and be at peace with it. Not long after it happened, the Lord just gave me a huge sense of peace about the whole thing. I could just feel his peace and reassurance that my identity is not in baseball or the fact that I’m a professional athlete or anything else. It’s in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’ve got a Savior who tells me that I’m good enough and that He loves me unconditionally and that it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me or how the world looks at me or measures me. My identity is in Jesus Christ.”

Wainwright says that one of his favorite verses that he leaned on throughout his recovery was Acts 20:24.

“That’s got to be one of my favorite verses in the Bible,” he says. “Basically, it says that my life means nothing unless I use it to glorify God. And it tells me that no matter what trials or circumstances I’m in, I can always be a light to others.”

Wainwright adds that, whether we like it or not, people are always watching us.

“People watch how you deal with adversity,” he says. “And that has a big effect on your impact for Christ. Adversity is like a huge billboard and it causes people to look at you when they might not otherwise be looking at you. When people see that you have a peace about things and that you are calm in the face of adversity, that gives you a chance to share your faith and be the kind of example that Christ wants us to be.”

For the first two months after his injury, Wainwright says it was difficult to even lift his arm, much less throw with it.

“I couldn’t even grip a shampoo bottle in the shower for several weeks after the injury,” he says. “But after that you get your brace off, you get your cast off and, gradually, you get your range of motion back and you get your strength back in that arm. And, aside from those first two months, I was at the ballpark every day, rehabbing that arm and working hard to get it back in shape.”

Losing a star player like Wainwright is nothing new for the Cardinals, who seem to be a team filled with players who are trained in overcoming adversity.

“You look at 2006 and that whole year we dealt with adversity and injuries and we snuck into the playoffs and wound up winning the World Series,” Wainwright says. “In 2007, Echstein, Scott Roland, Jimmy Edmonds, Chris Carpenter and some other really key people were out. These are really big pieces of a team and all of those guys got hurt and were out at the same time. Sure, there were times we didn’t play well, but we didn’t have all of our key players in the lineup. So I think that the Cardinal Way has been, as long as I have been here, is to find a way to win, no matter what and we have been bred into that.”

Wainwright says it was also noticeable in the Cardinals’ 2011 championship season.

“Whether it’s me or someone else on this team, we know that we just have to keep going and keeping fighting through those injuries every day,” he says. “You saw that so much last year with the team that we had that won the world championship. The Cardinal Way has always been to find a way to win and you saw that in the World Series last year. We were down to the last strike twice and down by two runs both times, yet we still found a way to win. That’s just the Cardinal Way. We always find a way to win, no matter what the situation.”

For most players, seeing their team win a world championship without them would be a bag of mixed emotions; happy for their teammates but disappointed that they weren’t able to contribute. For Wainwright, however, that wasn’t the case.

“Honestly, it wasn’t tough at all,” he says. “Once God gave me that peace about the situation, it wasn’t tough at all. I just began to realize that there were greater things going on than me playing baseball.”

Despite that he wasn’t on the field with teammates, Wainwright still felt a sense of belonging with last year’s championship team.

“Mainly, these guys in here embrace me and make me feel at home and make me feel welcome,” he says. “And, even though I was hurt all of last year, I was still here with the team and they made me feel a part of things. I didn’t need to be anywhere else. I needed to be with my team. This clubhouse really became my home away from home.”

Wainwright adds that the Cardinals are more than clutch hitting and solid pitching. “The other thing is that the character in the clubhouse is very professional and they show up to play baseball every day,” he says. “Everybody in this league is a professional baseball player but there are different ways of going about being a professional and the guys in this clubhouse really take it seriously and really push themselves to be the best they can be.

“Last year, when all the so-called experts were saying that our season was over, the guys in the clubhouse knew that wasn’t the case and that we were about to go on a run. We just had a feeling something good was about to happen. So, when people talk about giving up on the season, that was one thing that never crossed anyone’s mind in here.”

Wainwright says the Cardinal tradition continues today and is getting stronger every year.

“You wouldn’t believe what’s going on in this Cardinal organization,” he says. “There’s a whole movement going on from our manager, to our farm system and on down. More than half the team, at least, meets for prayer breakfast at least twice or three times a week. Jesus said don’t count the sheep, feed the sheep, but at our Bible studies we have 50 or 60 guys in there from the Cardinals organization, and it’s just incredibly exciting. The atmosphere in this clubhouse is incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for any other clubhouse in the game.”

By Jim Gibbs

Jim Gibbs is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas, Texas.

From the Archives: The Saint Louis Cardinals

Three of baseballʼs most dominant hitters the last decade have joined together, but their confidence isn’t in their ability on the field – itʼs in knowing that God is in control.

Pujols, Holliday, Berkman – Power from Above

The regular season hadn’t even started, but St. Louis Cardinals’ fans were excited about the possibilities as they watched their team in spring training during March.

Albert Pujols. Matt Holliday. Lance Berkman. All together in one dangerous lineup.

Pujols joined the Cardinals in 2001. Holliday was acquired from Oakland in 2009 and Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with St. Louis in the off-season, coming over from the Yankees after becoming a free-agent.

“Some fans are starting to call this new lineup that the Cardinals have ‘Murderer’s Row,’” says Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock, referring to the famed 1927 New York Yankees lineup of Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.

Brock worked with Pujols, Holliday and Berkman, as well as the rest of the Cardinals, in Jupiter, Fla. during spring training.

“The thing about this lineup is that there are not really any weak spots, especially when you go down the line and get to Pujols, Holliday and Berkman,” Brock says. “You can’t get through this new Cardinal batting order without pitching to people and that’s where these opposing pitchers are going to find a lot of problems.”

“When you have three very good hitters all in a row like these guys are, at least one of them is going to create a problem for you as a pitcher. Back in the late 1960s, we had some guys who were hitters. And, by hitters, I mean guys like Curt Flood who could get on base and get 200 hits in a season. That’s the kind of guys the Cardinals have on their team this year with Pujols, Holliday and Berkman. Those guys will get their hits and if we can get some guys on ahead of them, the Cardinals will be tough to beat this season.”

The threesome’s statistics are staggering.

In 10 seasons before this one, all with the Cardinals, Pujols had amassed career numbers of 408 homers, 1,230 RBIs and a .330 batting average. He had never hit fewer than 32 homers in a season, or totaled less than 103 RBIs or hit below .312. He also made nine All-Star teams, won three National League MVPʼs, six Silver Slugger awards, League Championship Series MVP, spent his first five seasons with the Colorado Rockies. He then moved to the Oakland Aʼs for two-thirds of the 2009 season before coming to the Cardinals. He entered this season with career numbers of 180 homers, 695 RBIs and had a .318 batting average. He has hit below .300 only once in his career – his rookie season in 2004 when he hit a solid .290.

Berkman’s numbers through his first 12 seasons were solid, as well. He had hit 327 homers, driven in 1,099 runs and had a career batting average of .295. He has hit 21 or more homers in 10 of those seasons, and except for a shortened rookie season in 1999 and an off-year last season, he has hit close to or better than .300 each year. He has also driven in more than 100 runs in six seasons and 80 or more runs in three other years.

Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa said that having the three power hitters in the same lineup will give him more flexibility when he makes out the lineup card.
“I think the middle of our lineup compares with anybody, but now, with the addition of Berkman, you can move guys around a little more,” La Russa says. “Guys that were hitting fifth can now hit sixth or seventh. So it just deepens our lineup and gives us more options.”

Pujols – Glorifying Christ

Pujols, of course, has been the leader of the potent Cardinal offense for more than a decade. Arguably the best player in the game, the veteran Cardinal first baseman says he’s excited about the slugging additions that the Cardinals have added in recent years.

“Adding Matt was a great addition to our team,” Pujols says. “And now, with Berkman, it’s going to be even better. The Cardinals have created a very powerful lineup here. Berkman is exactly the bat we needed here, and if we can all stay healthy and all play to our potential, we are going to do a lot of damage in this league together.” Pujols, who went into spring training without a new contract and who is in the last year of his current contract with the Cardinals, says he tries not to worry about off-field issues.

“These contract negotiations are always tough,” he told Sports Spectrum. “That’s just the nature of the game today. But Jesus Christ is the one who guides all of my decisions and that’s who I play for. Through Him, I’ve learned more than I ever knew and I feel that I have a great responsibility to just stay humble and keep my focus on Him. I believe that whatever I do this season will come from Him. He will guide me and He’s going to show me and provide me with the place I need to be and that’s why all of this contract talk doesn’t bother me.”

“I know in the end, God will help me to make the right decision, just like He helped me to make all my decisions in the past.”

Pujols says instead of thinking about next season and the possibility of where he’s going to play, he would rather focus on the present season and help make this Cardinals team the best it can be.

“We really have a chance to do something special this year,” Pujols says. “We have a very dangerous lineup and I think, as both a baseball player and a Christian, you have to live in the present. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us. In fact, we donʼt know what will happen to us in the next five minutes. We have a very exciting team now and I’m very thankful that I’m healthy and able to make a living doing what I do. So I just want to enjoy this opportunity to be a part of a great ball club. My one goal in this game is to glorify God in everything I do, whether itʼs through my foundation or on the field.”

Berkman – Change of Plans

Berkman, 35, who is four years older than Pujols, is the new kid in the Cardinals clubhouse. He’s a veteran whose leadership skills will not go unnoticed in St. Louis. He also has a youthful enthusiasm for the game and seems to get along well with teammates on any team he plays for.

“I honestly thought that I was going to retire as an Astro,” says Berkman, who spent more than 11 seasons in Houston. “But we have plans that we want to do and it turns out that the Lord has other ideas for us. It was sort of a perfect storm of events that moved me out of Houston and then came the transition time in New York. I went to the Yankees last year and that was really a good experience for me and I enjoyed playing there. Now, I’m here in St. Louis and I have no doubt that this is where God wants me to be. I’m excited to see how it will all play out.”

When Berkman became a free agent at the end of last season, several teams expressed interest in him. One of those teams was the Texas Rangers, which was a consideration because it would get him back to his home state, where he was born in Waco and played baseball at Rice University.

“There were some other teams that I was considering in the off-season but the Cardinals were the team that I really wanted to sign with because I think this team has a legitimate shot at winning the World Series,” Berkman says. “At this stage of my career, I would really like to win a World Championship and what better place to do that than in St. Louis? The Cardinals have a tradition of excellence and itʼs exciting for me to be a part of that tradition.”

“I just hope I can do my part to make us successful. Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols are really the big guns in this lineup and I want to make sure Iʼm contributing to our offense. But whenever you are batting in a lineup as powerful as this one is, it definitely helps you as a hitter. Hitting is contagious and when guys around you are hitting, it gives you confidence so that you start hitting, too.”

Berkman added that, no matter what team he plays for, God is in control.

“One of my favorite passages of scripture is in I Peter, the first chapter,” he says. “It promises us an inheritance that will not perish, spoil or fade no matter what happens to us here. No matter what trials we have to go through, we have an abundant inheritance that is waiting for us. So that’s comforting to me, that no matter what happens on the baseball field, as a Christian, I have an inheritance in heaven, I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and because of that, my eternal destination is secure. That’s what you have to hang your hat on. Not the success or failures you might have on the baseball field.”

Holliday – Leaning on God

Holliday, who drove in 103 runs last season and batted .312, says he’s excited about the Cardinals’ chances this season.

“It was great to get Lance in here this year and I think we have one of the strongest lineups in the league,” Holliday says. “On the field, it’s great to be in the same lineup with guys like Lance and Albert, but off the field, it’s great, too. It’s great to be around strong Christians like Lance, Albert and a lot of other believers that we have on this team because we all learn so much from each other. We formed a very tight bond in spring training and I think that is just going to get stronger as the season goes on.” The addition of Berkman, Holliday says, makes a Cardinals team that had pretty good power last season even better.

“Adding Lance makes the lineup deeper because guys can hit in spots that maybe they are better suited for and allows guys to fall into their natural hitting positions,” he says. “Plus, you definitely get better pitches to hit with a guy like Lance Berkman hitting behind you.”

“When a pitcher has to face three very tough hitters in a row, it starts to wear him down a little more and puts more pressure on him. That pressure leads to fatigue, and hopefully, that fatigue will work to our advantage, especially as the games go into the later innings.”

Like Berkman and Pujols, Holliday says he tries to keep the game in perspective. “Baseball is a game of failure,” he says. “At the plate, the best hitters fail seven out of every 10 times. So we deal with a lot of failure. But I take great comfort in the fact that God is in control of every part of my life – good, bad and everything in between.

“My favorite Bible verse is from Job 38:4. It says ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth. Tell me if you have understanding.’ And that just tells me that I definitely don’t have all the answers. But God does and I know that I can always count on that.”

And the Cardinals Nation is hoping that its 2011 edition of ‘Murderers Row’ will still be swinging in October.

By Jim Gibbs

This story was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Sports Spectrum.

In the News: Case Keenum

God is in Control

After only two seasons, University of Houston quarterback Case Keenum is already one of the most prolific passers in school history. He’s also the nation’s returning leader in total offense and considered one of the top returning players in 2009 by several national sports publications.

Keenum is a viable Heisman Trophy candidate, along with Sam Bradford (2008 winner), Tim Tebow (2007 winner) and Colt McCoy (2008 runner-up), as well as a candidate for the Maxwell Award.

And, while many college football experts are talking about a possible Heisman Trophy now, Keenum will be the first to tell you that God was also showing him patience during his first two seasons with the Cougars.

“As a redshirt freshman, it was a difficult situation because I was sharing time with another quarterback and we were competing for the starting quarterback position,” Keenum says. “It was tough because it seemed like, during practice, every mistake was magnified because we had a situation in Houston where we had two guys who were very capable and very competitive, and both of us wanted to be the starter. So when I’d throw an interception or make a bad read or make a bad play, I’d really beat myself up about it. I was finding that it was hard to sleep because I was so concerned about it.”

But soon Keenum began to realize that a starting position on a college football team, or anything else for that matter, was out of his hands.

“I realized that God was the one in control, not me,” he says. “I just decided that I was just going to do the very best I could and let God control the situation.”

And it wasn’t long before Keenum’s patience and preparation began to pay off as he competed in all 13 games, with seven starts, during his redshirt freshman year.  He was the team leader in passing yards and touchdown passes and ranked second on the team with nine rushing touchdowns and third with 414 rushing yards.

In his first collegiate appearance at Oregon, he threw for a game-high 179 yards and was 14-of-27 including a touchdown.

Now in his third full season, he’s ready to take the helm of the Cougars as their top quarterback.

“It’s a lot different situation now that I’ve established myself as the starter,” he says. “I can relax in the sense that I’m not worried about whether I’ll be the starter or not.  Now that that is settled, I can focus in on just helping our team win games and being the best we can be.”

Keenum added that, while it hasn’t been easy, he knows that the Lord has always been by his side whether he’s on the sidelines or on the field.

“One of my favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 40:31 which says ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ To me, that’s a great verse to apply not just to sports, but to life off the field as well.”

Keenum added that pressures off the field can often be as great as those on it.

“There’s a lot of pressures that the game puts on you and I’ve certainly gone through every young man’s battle in regard to dating and other temptations that the world is always throwing at you,” he said. “As an athlete, you always have a bullseye on your back. People are always wanting things from you and it seems that there’s always temptations around the corner. And I know that those temptations will always be around. I’ll have them now and even after I’m older and married and out of football.”

“But the other side of that is that we have a God that loves us and will never forsake us. He’s always with us, even in the midst of our greatest temptations. And I find that, when I focus on Him, instead of the temptations that I’m faced with, the lure of those temptations begin to fade and I’m able to overcome them.”

This story was published in our Fall 2009 issue.

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