ST. LOUIS — Before Adam Wainwright was the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace, he was a relatively unknown Atlanta Braves minor leaguer with a penchant for fantasy football.
The righty’s career took off, as did the popularity of the online pastime. Somewhere along the way — after Wainwright accumulated three teams in leagues with teammates and friends — an idea popped into the pitcher’s brain.
“He had mentioned, just in passing, ‘I would really like to do a fantasy football league for charity,” older brother Trey Wainwright says. “It’s always been in the back of his mind that this is something we wanted to do. Each year, he would think about it in waves. Fantasy football season rolls around, he goes through his draft, and then he says, ‘I wish I would have done it for charity this year.'”
Trey, a corporate lawyer seven years older than Adam, sometimes receives text messages from his baby brother on Sunday mornings, asking him to tweak a roster if Adam is without a computer on a hunting trip. And it is Trey who put the pressure on Adam about the charity, telling him: “Put up, or shut up.”
Adam Wainwright put up, and it led to what took place in a club suite Friday morning at Busch Stadium, a fantasy football draft for a charity league the Wainwright brothers believe can and will spread across the MLB.
“The idea of throwing in charity with fantasy football is something everybody loves,” Adam Wainwright says. “It seems to have really struck a chord.”
There were hurdles before it could happen. A website (wainosworld.com) had to be launched and a service (St. Louis-based Real Time Fantasy Sports) had to volunteer to run the league. Teammates (Matt Holliday, David Freese and Allen Craig) had to agree to participate and two deserving charities (Operation Food Search and Water Missions International) had to be selected. Prizes (everything from a ski trip to a Golden Tee golf game) had to be collected. And then there was the biggest question: Would anyone actually pay to play?
“It’s just clever,” Robert Clem, an owner of multiple software companies in St. Louis, says after he stocked his squad with St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook and running back Zac Stacy.
“I’ve been doing fantasy football 20-something years. I love fantasy football. I love the Cardinals. And these charities are great charities.”
“It’s smart. Use something that, frankly, is so silly and normally a waste of time for guys. And we get to actually help people. How cool is that?”
Clem wrote a check for $2,500 to claim a 12-player team in the four-conference league (one named after each participating Cardinal player). Forty-three others joined him to fill the available slots, bringing the amount of donated entry fees to $110,000. Participants, including the guy who donated $1,000 extra on the spot Friday, ranged from the not-so-intense Clem to a guru who plays in 95 leagues. Others probably located somewhere in the middle of that spectrum came from New Jersey, Arizona, Georgia and Texas.
They will compete against each other and the four Cardinals all football season. The league champion gets two tickets for an all-inclusive ski trip to Vail, Colo. The runner-up gets to meet NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick at the 2014 Daytona 500. And anybody who beats a Cardinal in a head-to-head meeting in their respective conference gets a chance to take home that Golden Tee.
But the Wainwrights have a bigger prize in mind. They would like to see this event replicated. The brothers have had discussions with the league’s player’s association about just that. Adam Wainwright estimates more than 50 percent of major league clubhouses play fantasy football. He needs just guy from every team to jump on board.
“Right now, we have raised $111,000 for those two great charities,” he says. “We did that with next to zero overhead. Everything we have done is through donation, people volunteering their time and services … If we can do that times 30, that’s a huge impact.”
In time, it might happen.
Until then, Wainwright just has to remember to set the roster of his fourth fantasy team — Uncle Charlie — every weekend.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org