If I learned anything at all from watching “Friends With Benefits”, it’s that Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake were genetically engineered perfect beings presented to humanity as gifts from a higher power. If I learned anything else, it’s that Semisonic and not Third Eye Blind released “Closing Time” – a catchy little bop with lyrics that provide the inspiration for the words about Adam Wainwright yet to come.
If you think that what follows below most assuredly runs headlong into the trite, predictable, and sappy pitfall of “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” crappiness, then just know to trust your instincts on this one.
You’ve been warned.
Endings are hard. Whether writing a dissertation, saying goodbye to a beloved inanimate object, or relocating to another state, endings can prove difficult on many levels. You desperately want to wrap everything up into a tidy package and top it with the perfect closing statement as the bow. The desire to say the right things at exactly the right time or to capture the moment perfectly is understandable. Failure to express yourself adequately may have dire “end of the planet and even worse the internet” consequences.
Imagine the biblical plagues of Egypt writ large but with a millennial obnoxiously narrating the end of the world on Periscope.
Pure hyperbole, but you get the message. Endings are difficult, because you want to get them right, and you don’t get a mulligan. If you see one in sight (I do), then be grateful for the time to prepare (I am). Barring a miracle or three, Adam Wainwright’s career is ending in the relatively near future, and it’s just a matter of ironing out the details.
If Wainwright comes back at anything close to 100%, he should start, and he should be able to contribute in a productive and meaningful way on the field. This is not about what some perceive that he’s earned, what he deserves, or showing respect. It’s a simple baseball decision made based on what he can do and how he can best go about doing it.
But we’re talking about a rather big “if”.
I highly doubt he makes it back anywhere close to 100% in which case questions abound regarding whether he can even be a productive pitcher. If he can, then it’s a no-brainer that the team has to find a way to use him. Maybe that takes the shape of a long relief role or as a pinch hitter for Carpenter against lefties. As John Mozeliak so often says, these things tend to work themselves out. That’s a very kind way of saying that sh*t happens, guys get injured or stop performing, and stressing about a bridge long before you might have to cross it does nothing for you.
The Cardinals placed Wainwright on the 10-day DL May 15th, and that move was retroactive to May 14th. Yesterday’s transfer of Wainwright to the 60-day disabled list means that the earliest he could be activated is the middle of July. Even if he makes it back the first day he’s eligible to come off the DL, the team would be roughly 6 weeks away from roster expansion. That timetable could easily be shifted to accommodate a later return date, and the Cardinals would only need to carry Wainwright on the 25-man roster for 3-4 weeks (or less).
If Wainwright can’t come back and contribute, then he can finish his career on the disabled list. Yep, he sure can. No doubt that makes sense.
That scenario does not conform to my hopelessly romantic view of baseball that I struggle constantly to suppress. As a matter of fact, I reject that outcome in favor of something I can better reconcile with my emotional selfishness. I choose to embrace the possibility that he gets a proper sendoff that strikes a proper balance between sentiment and pragmatism.
I’ve got most of the details worked out, so I just need universal forces and perhaps a deity or two to join me as co-conspirators.
In the “universal forces plus deity (or two)” scenario, the Cardinals wait to activate Wainwright until after August 31st. It’s this activation that poses the greatest hurdle to this highly romanticized view of how baseball should work. Activating Wainwright means making space on the 40-man roster, because players on the 60-day DL don’t count against the 40-man limit. So…as long as the team has a lamb worthy of sacrifice, then it’s a go.
The team has 15 home games in September, and 6 of those fall on weekends. His final appearance does not have to come on a weekend, but remember that this is my personal reality, and it’s all about what I want. Waino finishing up in front of 15,000 fans on a weeknight isn’t quite the same as finishing in front of 35,000+ showing up on a weekend afternoon in anticipation of a special moment.
This has to be a token appearance, and it can in no way have any meaningful impact on the game’s outcome or the playoff race. Conveniently, those weekend games are against the Reds, Dodgers, and Giants. The Reds are already out of playoff contention with mathematical elimination simply a matter of humanity surviving a relatively small number of sunrise/sunset cycles. While nearly anything can happen, it’s highly unlikely that both the Dodgers and Giants are still in the hunt in mid-September, and by that I mean the Giants should be floundering soon enough.
Then it’s just a matter of serendipitous circumstance. Maybe it’s a 12-1 lead in the 9th against the Reds, or perhaps it’s an 8-run deficit on a Saturday against the Dodgers. Ideally, the situation remains fluid and the moment completely organic minus the part where everything goes to plan.
To recap: I want this to be the best not-planned-but-according-to-plan moment. Think of it as one of those staged concert ticket surprise videos on YouTube but with better lighting.
The Cardinals take a double digit lead into the top of the 8th inning, and Matheny sends word to get Wainwright going. He’ll need extra time and not because he’ll be warming up for maximum effort. Fans need time to Google search the correct channel number for their television provider in order to tune in. Many will need a few minutes to food bong the last of their nachos in a helmet. This is a must-see event, and you can’t capture shaky, mediocre quality video while holding a smartphone and a beer and a helmet half full of nachos.
By the end of the 8th, everyone in Cardinal Nation knows what is about to happen. Everyone interested in pausing life for a moment has seen Wainwright’s name on the board just above the bullpen. Fox Sports Midwest doesn’t even go to commercial, and instead people get to hear and see everything in real time (or as close to real time as built-in broadcast delays and the laws of physics allow). Dan McLaughlin will be artfully painting a picture of the moment in your mind, and Horton or Hrabosky will be stepping all over themselves ruining that wonderful imagery just as quickly as it can be created.
Someone other than Wainwright gets the first two outs of the inning. Then you know what’s coming, and that’s when you really feel the onset of that mysterious “allergy issue” which targets Cardinal fans occasionally.
You hear the cheering. You see Wainwright walking to the mound for the last time, and every memory you have of Adam Wainwright hits you at once. For some it’s the “Beltran caught looking” moment. For others it’s Wainwright closing out the 2006 World Series and Molina running to embrace him. For me it will probably be the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” moment with Jake Westbrook in the dugout before a game.
It’s not going to be the fairytale ending of tossing a complete game to win World Series game 7. It certainly won’t be sealing the deal by striking out the last hitter with a 12-6 curve to start a celebration involving goggles and alcoholic beverages. It won’t even by a save situation, and it probably won’t end with a strikeout. It may not be pretty.
I just hope that whomever is hitting for the Reds is blissfully, ignorantly complicit while also convincing as an unsuspecting actor. He must appear to be competent at hitting while not actually demonstrating competence. This can’t be a “pipe shot” moment like Wainwright gave to Jeter lest the moment be ruined by artificiality.
If we’re lucky, maybe the unwitting accomplice flails at the first pitch and gets under it for a popup. I’m a dreamer but not a greedy one.
Sure, one last strikeout in a career of many strikeouts with a curve we’ve seen so many times would be great. Again, I’m not being greedy here. I’m just here for the last out he puts in the books. It’s about one final Yadi hug on the field of play. It’s a chance to see one of my all-time favorites and to relish his final moment in the spotlight.
It’s closing time.