SECAUCUS, N.J. — The first pitch of the 2024 Cardinals season was a strike from Dodgers ace Tyler Glasnow to St. Louis leadoff man Brendan Donovan, delivered at 1:10 pm local time on Opening Day in Los Angeles. For the first time in nearly two decades of Cardinals season openers, a familiar and friendly face was absent from the dugout filled with road-gray Birds-on-the-Bat uniforms.

Franchise icon Adam Wainwright retired at the end of the 2023 season, with 200 wins under his belt and as many magical moments with the St. Louis baseball club. On this Opening Day, he was all the way across the country, in his hotel room in Secaucus, preparing for the next step in his career in baseball. Call time for his debut as an MLB Network Analyst was 4:45 p.m. local time, and the Zoom production meeting had started a few minutes before first pitch of Cardinals-Dodgers, a little after 4 p.m. on the East Coast.

Adam Wainwright stands in front of screens featuring photos of him as St. Louis Cardinals pitcher – MLB Network studios – March 29, 2024 Photo Credit: Ryan Fagan


Rest assured, though, “waino,” as his Zoom screen read, was paying attention to the baseball happenings at Dodger Stadium. “Look at Goldie with the knock right there!” he blurted out to everybody listening but nobody in particular, when Paul Goldschmidt delivered a one-out single in the first inning. Every person on the Zoom laughed.

You can take Adam Wainwright off the Cardinals roster, but you can’t take the passion for the Cardinals out of Adam Wainwright.

Still, it felt a bit odd, chatting with Wainwright an hour after call time, as he was wearing a suit in Secaucus — sitting next to a giant bank of a dozen TV screens showing all the action across the country — instead of a baseball uniform in Los Angeles. Wainwright had agreed to let me shadow him for his MLB Network debut. I asked him what it felt like, being away from the ballpark on Opening Day for the first time in, well, forever. He smiled.

“It’s not as weird as I thought it would be, actually,” he said. “I think I’m just, to this point anyway, OK with not doing it anymore. I did it for a long time and I’m OK with that. I was kind of going through normal dad life, husband life and totally forgot about baseball for a while there. I would always give myself like three weeks to a month off after a season to just unwind and be with the family. This felt like that, but for an extended amount of time.”

He paused, then smiled again.

“I’ve coached more games in the last two months than I have in my whole life, for all my kids. My oldest is 17 and my youngest is 5. I’m a volunteer assistant coach on three little league teams. I’m having the most fun being a dad, being there and being present.”


Just like he did for so many years on the mound for the Cardinals, Wainwright delivered for MLB Tonight during the production meeting. He had started texting with Chris Roenbeck, the Coordinating Producer of that MLB Tonight show, the night before and they hadn’t stopped exchanging messages all day. Roenbeck kept the pre-show preparation requests simple. He asked Wainwright to rank his top starting pitchers and to be prepared to talk about four hitters he was very familiar with: Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez and Ian Happ.

Adam Wainwright talks about pitcher Jordan Hicks – March 28, 2024 – Photo Credit: Ryan Fagan


“Within an hour,” Roenbeck said, “Adam had his homework completed, with it all written out in his notebook and forwarded to me.”

And that wasn’t all. Wainwright had ideas, too, for a new segment. He’d spent the previous few days watching video on starting pitchers across the league and wanted to use his brand-new platform to amplify the guys he knew wouldn’t make the primary “best pitcher” lists. Every clubhouse in the sport has MLB Network showing on the TVs, but not every player hears their name on a regular basis.

“These are guys I just love watching pitch, but they don’t get covered like like a No. 1 would,” Wainwright said. “There’s some incredible talent and I love highlighting those guys. I’m going for the shout-outs in the clubhouse.”

Roenbeck and his fellow MLB Tonight production folks were blown away. The brand-new Let Me Pump You Up segment — Wainwright even came up with the title — had been born.

“I assure you, this is above and beyond what is expected out of an analyst making his studio debut,” Roenbeck said. “At that point, our creative team ran with it and created a great look for his idea, and the result was a great two-part segment. Adam’s passion for these guys and their abilities came through on TV.”


At 5:45 p.m. Secaucus time, Wainwright’s Cardinals were finding out what it’s like to deal with a Dodgers lineup that features Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman in the top three spots; the Dodgers took a 5-0 lead after just three innings.

Adam Wainwright in production room for MLB Network – March 29, 2024 Photo Credit: Ryan Fagan


Meanwhile, in a tiny room inside MLB Network headquarters, Wainwright is huddled with Harold Reynolds and one of the Network’s plethora of talented video editors, watching highlights of Jordan Walker’s second-inning at-bat against Glasnow. With all the screens and video-editing equipment, there’s barely enough room for three swivel chairs and one reporter to lean against the wall.

Reynolds, who has been with MLB Network from the very beginning, is teaching. It’s what he does so well during his segments, and this is no different. But instead of helping viewers understand the game like he does on the show, he’s helping Wainwright understand the vast video capabilities now at his fingertips. Together, the three of them craft a segment on Glasnow that Wainwright will use the next morning on MLB Central.

Now, it’s time for the Reynolds tour of the building. Every room he strides into, he introduces Wainwright — as if anyone there didn’t already know who the 200-game winner is — and talks about how excited he is that Wainwright’s a new analyst for the network. After the second room, the second introduction, the second round of platitudes, Wainwright looks at me and says, “I could get used to having Harold with me all the time as my hype man.”

Because it’s Opening Day at MLB Network studios, pretty much everyone is wearing either a baseball jersey or a ballcap of their favorite team, or both. It’s a festive atmosphere. Wainwright laughs with the Cardinals fans and apologizes to a few Mets fans who still haven’t forgiven him for striking out Carlos Beltran in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

The Reynolds tour winds around to yet another room with editing equipment. This one is where the editors take StatCast data and create graphics and videos that they send out to broadcast feeds across the country. Reynolds gets everyone’s attention and says, with his loud voice, “I told him this if the coolest room in the building, that if you want the fancy stuff, the cool stuff, come up here. Now, who’s got something to show him?”

A couple hands shoot up. Wainwright looks like a kid in a candy shop.


Wainwright’s debut MLB Tonight show doesn’t have a scheduled start time, just a “shortly after the Cardinals-Dodgers game ends” directive. And this Cardinals-Dodgers game moves at a Rob Manfred-approved pace, finishing in a brisk 2 hours, 23 minutes. That means Wainwright, Reynolds and host Greg Amsinger suddenly have an extra 30-plus minutes of time to fill. Welcome to the show, newbie.

The three of them sit down on the MLB Tonight stage in Studio 3 around 6:30 p.m. Reynolds looks at Wainwright and says, “This will be the most fun you’ll ever have on live TV.”

Amsinger, a St. Louis native and lifelong Cardinals fan, laughs. “You’re gonna love this. Have a good one, buddy.”

Wainwright says, almost quietly, “Thanks for having me on, guys.”

MLB Tonight is, essentially, a highlight show, with live look-ins at games around the sport, but there are plenty of planned segments, too. Exactly when those segments happen, though, kinda depends on what’s happening in games. And when Amsinger and Reynolds — both who were here for MLB Network’s start — see something happen they want to explore with an on-field demonstration, it’s off to Studio 42 across the hall, where a mini baseball field is set up, complete with baselines, bleachers and dugouts.

The first opportunity arises when there’s a play at the plate in the Pirates-Marlins game. As the show goes to commercial break, Amsinger and Reynolds pop up from the desk. Amsinger shouts, “We’re going to 42!”

Wainwright’s still sitting at his seat, a little confused. As he gets up and starts to follow he says, “I … don’t know what ’42’ means.”

The show feels like a whirlwind to the uninitiated. Wainwright’s first Let Me Pump You Up segment goes off without a hitch.

“He’s a freaking natural,” Amsinger tells anyone who will listen.

You can see Wainwright’s confidence rising. There’s a moment that stuck out to Amsinger, when Wainwright was talking about pitching philosophy and pitch counts, diving into the topic and offering insights only an 18-year veteran pitcher could offer.

“He was so good, they just let the segment breathe. We were supposed to go to break, but our producer Chris Collins was like ‘No, this is too good,’ ” Amsinger said after the show. “That is the greatest compliment you can get from people in television production, when they’re trying to get a break and they go, ‘Wait a minute, hit the brakes. We’re not going to break, this is too good.’ And he had a couple of moments like that tonight.”

One of the planned segments featured video of Wainwright singing the national anthem on Opening Day at Busch Stadium in 2023. Dubbed into that piece was dozens of MLB Network employees with hands over their hearts, standing at attention. During the commercial break, moments before the segment runs, Wainwright asks — maybe begs is a better word — “You’re not going to play the whole anthem, are you? How about just half?”

Reynolds and Amsinger just laugh. “Oh, it’s the whole thing,” Amsinger says. During the segment, Wainwright’s standing off to the side of the desk, with a look that bounces between raw amusement and just a little bit of embarrassment.

I can’t help but think back to what he told me a couple hours ago.

“Maybe to a fault, I’m not afraid of making kind of a fool of myself,” he said. “Sometimes it works in my favor, and sometimes I make a fool out of myself. But I love talking about the game. I try not to worry about how many people are watching.”

The folks in-studio who were watching loved every single minute of his debut show.

“Listen, a four-hour show that’s ad-libbed, that’s reacting to games for the most part?” Amsinger said. “He executed everything flawlessly, from the scripted segments to the live look-ins, he has something to say. He’s got so much humility. That’s what makes him likable and why so many viewers connect to him. I could already see it. Social media was buzzing at his performance tonight.”


Wainwright didn’t leave MLB Network headquarters until after 11 p.m. on Thursday, but he was back by 8:30 a.m. on Friday. MLB Central — the morning show with Mark DeRosa, Lauren Shehadi and Robert Flores — awaited in the 10 o’clock hour.

“It was a fun day yesterday. Experienced a lot,” Wainwright said that morning. “I like seeing all the different sides of the business, you know? I’ve seen baseball from a lot of different ways, to really understand how the whole situation and process works. It is quite the production. I’m kind of blown away with how many people it takes to make it operate.

“I’ve never done anything like (MLB Tonight), so I just took their advice. (Amsinger) said, ‘We’re just gonna have a conversation like we’re in a bar or something.’ So I just tried to play it like that all night long. I think we did what we were supposed to. I had a blast doing it.”

After Thursday night’s marathon session of live TV, MLB Central felt like it was done in the blink of an eye. Wainwright spent time with DeRosa at his canvas — the massive Skybox monitor on the pristine Studio 21 set talking about his career, the secret of his iconic curveball and their time as teammates. Wainwright was on the MLB Central couch with the trio, and did the “A Word With …” segment under the spotlight with Shehadi, making sure to defend toasted ravioli like any good St. Louisan.

Sitting in the green room after the show, it was clear he was excited to come back for his next appearance as an MLB Network analyst. He said he had 10 to 12 appearances lined up, along with another 15 game broadcasts with Fox. Add in a few concerts and appearances promoting his new country album, and the schedule gets busy.

Don’t expect much more, though.

“I just don’t want to be gone like I used to be gone,” he said. “I still want to experience the game, I want to stay in the game. I love talking about baseball. I love staying up with the new players and all the exciting young talent out there, and keeping up with old guys, too.”

He paused, for half a moment. “I want to be great at whatever I’m doing, but the thing I need to be the greatest now at is being a dad. Being a dad and being a husband is the most important job I’ve got right now.”

Well, that and being a good volunteer little league coach.


Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan, Baseball Hall of Fame voter since 2016, worked at The Sporting News for 18-plus years before starting a freelance career. A St. Louis native, he also dabbles in college hoops and other sports. And, yeah, he has way too many junk wax baseball cards.