Adam Wainwright’s Last Pitch and My Last race, Part 2
To give some perspective about how fast 5:33 is for a 500, a mile is 1760 yards. Most people walk at a leisurely pace of about 3-3.5 miles an hour, and when they walk quickly, they walk about 4-5 miles an hour. In other words, if you walk at a slow pace, you cover about 500 yards in 6 minutes, or slower than I swam in 1995. If you walk quickly, I swam slower. Now think about covering 5 football fields of water. How long would it take you? Admittedly, 5:33 is not fast for an elite swimmer, but it was fast enough to make it to Division II and III national meets in 1995, and would be fast enough to have placed 7th in the 2023 Junior College finals. In other words, my time was good, but not elite enough in Texas in 1995 to make it to a regional final.
Swim meets with preliminaries and finals are heat-seeded, which is a complicated way to say the fastest swimmer is not in the same heat as the next fastest. Instead, the total number is divided by the number of lanes, and then the fastest swimmer is in the first heat in lane 4, then the second fastest is given the second heat, and so on. So if there are 24 swimmers and 8 lanes, there are 3 heats, and the fastest swimmer is next to the 3rd fastest in lane 3, the 6th fastest in lane 5, the 9th fastest in lane 6, and so on. So when I swam my 500, I was seeded 11th of 24, as I was in lane 6 in the second heat of 3.
The results used to take a bit to tally. I am sure it’s much faster now. But it took all the way through the boys’ 500 and through the 200 free relays. I was in the locker room, trying to get some semblance of control over my body. Then the results posted. I was 9th, which is the first swimmer to not go to finals unless someone scratches.
I got my shoulder on ice and returned to the cheering squad. I got hugs and “I’m sorries.” I was exhausted and I knew, in all honesty, I probably did not have another swim in me the following day. But I was proud of the swim I had just turned in. No one from my team made the finals in the 500; the other girl, who had been seeded 5th, placed behind me in 11th. She was devastated. So I found my coach and told her I was done. I had to scratch as the first backup. I knew there was nothing left. I had struggled to put on a shirt because of my shoulders. My legs were cramped up and everything hurt. I was done, having turned in the best 500 of my life.
Which brings me back to Adam Wainwright. I was there for #200. In fact, I have been there or watched on TV many of his big games. I cried when it looked like he had nothing in San Diego in 2018 when it seemed like he was making his last start. I watched him go from being a skinny, gangly fast-ball pitcher with a wicked curve to being a breaking ball pitcher, pitching with a 40-year-old’s body. I watched him get moved to the slow lane. I watched him have highs and lows.
After last weekend, I also learned that his shoulder had given out in win #200. His labrum partly tore in Atlanta, and tore the rest of the way in Baltimore. His back was taped up and he had several ribs out of place. His body was desperately screaming at him to retire.
No doubt, the Cardinals’ 2023 season was a disappointment. By all accounts, it was frankly awful. But despite how bad it was, there was Waino, taking the ball when he could, asking his body to just get him to the wall with the last ounces of baseball that could be squeezed from him.
On September 18, 2023, Wainwright took the mound, taped up like a Christmas present wrapped by a child, and his body hurt. He had to win that night or he was never going to reach 200. His stuff that night was almost elite. But it was elite enough that for 7 innings, across 93 pitches, he kept the Brewers from scoring and his body held together.
The atmosphere at Busch Stadium on September 18th was electric – an electricity that grew across the innings and as his pitch count neared 90. I felt what I had felt in March 1995, all those years ago. The true baseball fans were there to cheer him on, just like my lane mates had been for me. The team’s defense showed up (although the bats were sound asleep). Wainwright looked better than he had all year. By the 7th, we cheered every good pitch. We, as a collective, pushed him to just give us a few more outs. He said he heard us. He said he was able to dig down, find something because we, the fans, were there. And then, after 93 pitches in 7 innings of shut-out baseball, he was done. He walked off the field, to wait as King and Helsley pitched the 8th and 9th, with the score sitting at 1-0. I knew his wait. I did not know his pain, but he did look exhausted. He looked like he had maybe left everything there, in one of his best performances this year. I am sure when he walked off the field, leaving the crowd chanting, he went into the locker room shaking. I am sure that every fiber of his being hurt later that night and for the next several days.
Out-by-out, the Cardinals navigated the 8th, although it got too adventurous for me. The offense tried to add on, but like much of the 2023 Cardinals, got nowhere. But the pitching and defense did. The anticipation swelled. Busch Stadium erupted when Tommy Edman caught the last out. I have been to three games with that feeling: Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, and September 18, 2023, Adam Wainwright’s 200th win.
Adam was pretty sure he was done after leaving the mound. Nothing felt right or good. He tried to recover, and had left it all there, for the fans, for his teammates, for himself, and for the greater glory. His body simply has no more pitches left, no different than I have no more laps to swim. The tank is dry, and when he emptied it, he borrowed against his tomorrows. He left, knowing he had put everything into it. I hope he knows other former competitive athletes understand.
I was so lucky to be there with my baseball-crazy husband. I know what he is and was feeling. But if he should ever stumble upon this, he has been some of the inspiration for me to be the lawyer I am now. I try to be kind and empathetic, to care about my clients as people, and to do my best to help them navigate through their legal problems as a legal guide. I empathize and know his decision to be done, to not try to find more, and to leave having given his best. For one last start, he lifted the sun back into the sky and felt the love shining down on him.