The Birth of The Ace

As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, there are two players for whom my man-crush will never fade: Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright.

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Carpenter’s clutch performances over the years, especially his duel with former teammate and beardmate Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, leave me convinced that if my life or that of my wife or child were being threatened by anything, up to and including a Philadelphia Phillie, I would pick him as my Defender and Protector.

Wainwright’s work inspires me with similar trust and admiration, although he doesn’t quite have Carpenter’s “I-would-stab-you-in-the-face-if-it-got-me-out-of-a-late-inning-jam” stare.

These men are the two great Cardinal aces of my lifetime.

Growing up, I thought Matt Morris was much the same, but other than his tooth-and-claw battles with Curt Schilling in the 2001 NLDS, he often came up short when we needed him most. I still love Matty-Mo, but he ain’t in the same league as Waino and Carp.

It’s been fascinating to watch Carpenter mentor Wainwright since his call-up in 2006. By all accounts I’ve read, he helped Waino with his pitches, but more so with his attitude, his competitiveness, his toughness.

Carpenter helped form Wainwright into the ace he is today.

However, all of Cardinal Nation knows Carpenter was first transformed by the Cardinals ex-pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan, along with longtime friend and manager Tony La Russa, resurrected Carp’s career, along with many, many other pitchers along the way. They built upon decades of Redbird success with more success by sharing certain philosophies about the game and how to play it. They even penned a manual to be used by all Cardinal coaches and players from rookie ball up. It’s titled, “The Cardinal Way”.

This manual explains their philosophies on hitting, fielding, pitching, coaching, speaking, treating rookies, interacting with fans…everything related to baseball. And it has yielded wonderful results.

“The Cardinal Way” has received a lot of attention recently, even appearing as the headline on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated issue.

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Commitment to the model elucidated in the manual and passed on by the elder statesmen of the organization is what has made every other professional sports team curious about (or even envious of) the St. Louis Cardinals . It is a model of sustained excellence which has inspired many.

A lot of people here in KC hate when I talk about the Cardinals. And true, many St. Louis fans can be obnoxious, seeming all the more so when juxtaposed against the ever-polite and ultra-humble Kansas Jayhawks fans that populate the area. But like it or not, they have to admit that “The Cardinal Way” works.

I wish people felt the same about the Church.

In our society, and probably worldwide, there is a rampant distrust of the Catholic Church. People point to the cases of pedophilia, ornate artwork and buildings, hypocritical congregation members, and they say “IT DOESN’T WORK! SEE! THE CHURCH IS CORRUPT! FLEE!”

And then they return to their broken lives, addictions, sadnesses, and bitterness, and they wonder where to turn.

The above sentence is not meant as a judgment. I do the same. I rebel against the teachings of the Church, the movements of my heart, the promptings of my prayer, and I immediately make excuses. I find a reason why it’s not really my fault, or at least not really so bad. And the brokenness of the world, and in particular Church members and clergy, is an easy out.

But here’s the thing: The Church is the source of the hope we are looking for. Those who want to reject it, discredit it, pick it apart and take what they want, are crippling their own hearts. They confuse the believer with the belief. They see the adherent and trade them for the truth. And they are left wanting.

The Church is full of broken people. Her popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, teachers, husbands, wives, and children are all messed up. But She is not.

To reject the Church forces one into contradiction. “I believe in the Jesus I find in the Gospels, not some pederast in Rome!” But you only know that Christ through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit gave us through those same sinners in Rome! “Christ never created a Church with a hierarchy of corrupt power-hungry thieves!”, but it is precisely that hierarchy that made it possible for you to know what Christ wanted, that protected and handed down His message to you! “How can I believe in something taught to me by liars?” Because what they teach you is not to believe in them, but in the Truth in which they find their hope! “The Church doesn’t do enough to help this cause or solve that problem!” Besides the fact that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, we also wouldn’t even know the radical message of acceptance and care for the poor and disenfranchised without the work of the Church!

These contradictions point to an important point: The faults of the persons don’t make the teachings wrong.

No one says, “Tony La Russa was arrested for a DUI! See, The Cardinal Way is a lie!” No one points to Mark Mulder or Jason Marquis and says, “It doesn’t work! See! They failed!”

We know a tree by its fruits. And the Cardinals’ fruits are plentiful.

So it is with the Church.

The Teachings of the Church are separate from the people who try to follow them. They are even separate from those who wrote them down or teach them now. And they must be evaluated on their own merits.

It is necessary to write down what you believe and to organize and systematize the means for spreading that belief if you want the most effective and thorough buy-in to that system possible. Cardinals, from St. Louis to Rome, know this. And they want people to know what the standard  is to which their members should be striving.

The hardest thing for me personally about sharing the faith with others is when people talk badly about the Church. I can respect those who disagree with her teachings. I can understand how a person could arrive at certain conclusions, even if I don’t think those conclusions correct.

But it’s hard to hear people bash “The Catholic Church”. People ask how I can belong to a Church that covered up pedophilia; they often think me crazy when I say that, as sorry and embarrassed and sickened as I am by that scandal, it has no bearing on my faith whatsoever. People, even priests and bishops, are awful sometimes. That’s why we need Christ.

We need something bigger than ourselves, some cohesive vision of what we are trying to do and how we are trying to do it. That’s what the Church gives us. Check that: that’s what Christ gave us through the Church, and what the Spirit continues to give us through the living papacy.

No one is perfect, but a belief system can be. A belief system is bigger than the believers, so it is capable of more than any one person is. It’s what forms the good into great.

It’s what makes us into aces. It’s what helps us become saints.

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2 Responses to The Birth of The Ace

  1. Matthew Weaver says:

    This is a very good piece, Shane.

  2. S. Helfrich says:

    Home run, Kid!

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