In 2010, Adam Wainwright pitched with excellence on the baseball diamond. A deserved all-star, Wainwright’s 20 wins and 2.42 ERA were second in the National League, allowing him to be runner-up for the NL’s Cy Young Award. However, during spring training in 2011, Wainwright suffered ligament damage to his right elbow that resulted in Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it even started. We spoke with Adam about his injury, his faith, and how God did something incredible through his time of adversity.
Q: How would you describe your faith journey and the development of your relationship with Christ?
A: I was born and raised in a Presbyterian church. My mom, who is a single mother, took my brother and me every Sunday. At some point I didn’t necessarily turn away from God, but I lost all sense of who God actually is and I started to have some serious doubts.
In 2002 I was in the minor leagues and I went to a conference called Professional Athletes Outreach (PAO). My agent, Steve Hammond, sent me there because he knew I had a lot of questions and I was starting to doubt whether there was a God at all. People who said they were believers weren’t living like it and the people who said they weren’t believers seemed like they were living a better life, at least in a worldly sense. I was seeing a lot of things I didn’t like about the way I thought about God, and I really had a misunderstanding about who God is and how great and awesome He actually is. So I went to PAO.
There was a man there named Dr. Joe Stowell. He used to be head of Moody Bible Institute. He said [Christianity] is more than just going to church and checking in and punching the clock. It’s a relationship, and in a relationship there are two different sides. That was the first time my ears heard that. It probably wasn’t the first time it was said to me or preached to me, but it was the first time my ears were ready to hear it. During that conference I committed to Christ, and my life has been slowly different ever since. I say slowly because I didn’t completely start living a devoted life for Jesus until about 2005, but the process started in 2002.
Q: On the baseball side of things, you went from pitching the final out of the World Series in 2006 to watching the World Series from the bench in 2011 due to your injury. What was the experience like for you this time around since you were playing a different role on the team?
A: Everybody asks me, “How miserable were you last year watching the team win the World Series?” What they don’t understand is when I found out I was hurt, I was granted such an amazing sense of peace from the Lord. The world handed me lemons and I made lemonade. And it was only because of the power God had in my life that I was able to do that.
Pitching over the years has gotten me to the point where I now have somewhat of a leadership role in the clubhouse. There are a few guys in there that I think are the core leadership of the team, and I feel like I’m in that group. So, even though I was hurt last year, I wanted to be there all year long. I wanted to be there for the guys. They were certainly there for me when I got hurt. They lifted me up and made me feel welcome, like family. That was all the more reason for me to be there.
Q: From a spiritual aspect, what did you learn during that time of injury?
A: I don’t know if I learned it, but it was refreshed to me that God is in control, and He takes moments like that—when the world tells us it’s a bad thing—and He turns it into a great thing. He used me spiritually in a way that could not have happened had I been playing. Don’t get me wrong; I would prefer Him to use me in a role where I could play as well, but by being hurt for the season I was able to speak to all kinds of people. I was able to speak at Christian Day at the Ballpark to 10,000 people in the stands. I was able to speak at FCA functions throughout the year.
Right after I got hurt, I wrote a letter to a blog I’m a part of called E-Fellowship and explained that through the injury I learned where my identity lay, and it wasn’t in baseball. It was in Christ. Eight or ten collegiate athletes and minor league baseball players who were going through Tommy John surgery reached out to me and said, “Thank you very much. That was such an uplifting message.” If the only reason I got hurt was to write that one letter, it was worth it.
Q: A lot of today’s professional athletes are criticized for talking about their faith, but you don’t shy away from it. Why are you so willing to speak out?
A: I pay no mind to what people of this world say is okay to talk about when I’m talking about our Lord. There are many ways to worship our Lord. One form of worship is to go out there and play to the best of your ability and use the talents He’s given you. Another is to acknowledge Him in all your ways, like Scripture says. God has put us on this earth. He’s put breath in our lungs; He’s put blood in our bodies; and He’s pumping our hearts. The only reason our heart takes another beat is because He allows it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging His greatness every now and then. We don’t do it enough.
Q: Do you feel like your faith is constantly being tested in your profession?
A: I think it’s being tested all the time. Look at today’s world. It’s a world that is slowly accepting sin more and more. Now it’s okay to have half-naked girls on TV. It’s okay to say bad words on TV. It’s okay to portray all these terrible things to our youth. In a world that is accepting of sin, you’re going to be tested on a daily basis whether it’s lust or whether it’s monetarily, especially in our profession. Professional athletes have great jobs. We get to play every day, and we make a lot of money. There’s no doubt about that. But Jesus said in Scripture that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God. So you have to look at what money can do to a person and what kind of greed it can cause.
Q: How do you stay connected with a faith community when you’re on the road?
A: I have a faith community inside the clubhouse that’s as strong as any other I know. We have a group of 10-12 guys that meet three or four times a week. We get in the Word and we talk about what’s going on in our lives. We open up to each other. That’s fellowship. That’s what God expects of those who desire to be godly men. We are called to be a light to the world and to enjoy fellowship with each other because we’re not meant to be by ourselves. Our team is made up of rock-solid believers that enjoy being around each other and love the accountability that comes with Christianity.
Q: Do you have a favorite book of the Bible and a favorite verse?
A: Genesis and Acts are my favorite books, and Acts 20:24 is my favorite verse. It is such an amazing testament to what we’re called to do, and it’s really had an effect on me. A couple of years ago I was trying to find a life verse. Guys would put their life verse on things and I thought, “I just don’t have one of those!” I was reading through Acts and came across Acts 20:24, which says my life is worth nothing unless I use it to do the work assigned to me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the good news about God’s wonderful kindness and love. The verse basically says, “Here is your life. It means something. Don’t waste it.”
Q: You’re involved with the Catch-A-Dream Foundation. Can you talk about what that is and what that foundation does?
A: The Catch-A-Dream Foundation takes terminally ill kids hunting and fishing, or whatever they want to do, and shares the gospel with them at the same time. If the kid wants to go king salmon fishing in Alaska, the Catch-A-Dream Foundation will take care of everything.
After the 2009 season I was able to hunt with a kid named Aaron Reynolds. Aaron wanted to kill and harvest a big buck before he passed on. He had terminal lung cancer that had spread to his pancreas, stomach, and all kinds of other places. Aaron came to that hunt a sad kid. He had a tough life at home and had a tough illness that would be almost impossible to overcome. The world told him, “Just be sad,” and he had every right to be sad. But Aaron left that hunt with a new attitude, a new spirit, and a Bible he was locked onto. He was able to kill two deer on the trail and had an amazing time. He told us it was the best time of his life. The impact that trip had on those of us who got to hunt with him was incredible, not to mention the impact it had on Aaron. When you’re helping kids, fulfilling dreams, and sharing the gospel, it doesn’t get much better than that.
To read the full interview, check out the Fall edition of The Brink magazine. To order, visit:
Billboard photo credit: Bill Greenblatt
Article photo credit: Scott Rovak