Cardinal Nation is an enthusiastic -- and knowledgeable -- bunch. In recent years there's been much to celebrate.
Coming off the historic 2011 season and the team's 11th World Series title, expectations were high for the 2012 Cardinals. Despite losing Albert Pujols in the offseason to free agency and co-ace pitcher Adam Wainwright in spring training to Tommy John surgery, the team still made it to postseason play.
In the divisional series the redbirds made a remarkable comeback in Game 5 against the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals were nine innings away from returning to the World Series, but a resilient Giants team came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NLCS to make the fall classic.
In his new book, author Rob Rains takes fans through the 2012 season. However, the focus in this book isn't solely on baseball; it's on faith in God.
"Intentional Walk: An Inside Look at the Faith That Drives the St. Louis Cardinals" highlights 18 players and staff within the Cardinals organization, sharing testimonies of faith and its importance in their lives.
Manager Mike Matheny is noted for his strong Christian faith, and Rains initially planned to focus the book on the first-year manager. After discussions, the project became more about the team and the number of players who profess faith in Jesus Christ.
Among those interviewed was Adam Wainwright. Wainwright is a Georgia native who was selected in the first round of the 2000 Major League Baseball Draft by the Atlanta Braves, later to be traded to St. Louis.
"At the conference there was a speaker who talked about having a relationship with Jesus Christ," Wainwright said. "It was the first time I had heard the word relationship associated with Christianity. I felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder. I was asking questions and He was answering them."
As Rains shared in a recent interview, Wainwright is now one of the key faith leaders on the team.
Among the other current players featured in the book are Matt Holliday, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter. Prospects James Ramsey and Kolten Wong also share their testimonies, as do broadcaster Rick Horton and former Cardinal Lance Berkman.
While Matheny is not the sole focus of the book, Rains does share the Cardinals manager's story. A copy of his famous "Matheny Manifesto" -- a letter Matheny wrote several years ago to youth baseball parents -- is also included.
For baseball fans -- especially those who follow the Cardinals -- this is a fascinating read. Fans will recount much of the baseball storyline, but there are details included that readers will enjoy.
Rains' angle of the 2012 season provides a good background, but this is much more than a baseball book. Fans and nonfans alike will be encouraged. The testimonies of faith in God are inspiring, and the author does an excellent job at distilling the stories from players and others within the organization.
This is the 32nd book for Rains, who is also a member of the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA). In addition to writing books, Rains is the managing editor and columnist for TheStLSportsPage.com. He teaches as an adjunct professor at Webster University.
"Intentional Walk" is set to be released Tuesday and is available in paperback and as a Kindle e-book.
The following is a recent interview the author did with the Southeast Missourian:
Q: You have written a number of books. How was this one different for you as a writer?
A: In one way it was like every chapter, which focused on a particular individual, was like a book into itself -- although I tried to use the backdrop of the 2012 season. Figuring out when to use each player and the angle to take for their individual story, set in the context of the season, was a harder challenge then writing a complete biography or autobiography.
Q: What led you to write this book?
A: The original idea was to focus the book on Mike Matheny, obviously a strong Christian, and detail his experiences during his rookie season. As Mike and I talked, however, and I thought about it, I realized there were so many other strong Christians on the team. I wanted to find a forum to tell their stories. I believe the faith of these individual players and collectively as a team does have a great deal to do with their success, as they all explain in the book.
Q: Is there one individual's testimony that stands out to you?
A: Everybody has their own unique story and a different way they were led to Christ, at a different point in their life. Some of the more outspoken Christians, such as Lance Berkman and Adam Wainwright, have told their stories before, although I think we were able to give them a little more context. Some other players, however, such as David Freese and Jason Motte, have not been as comfortable in talking publicly about their faith, but share their story in the book. I also am tremendously impressed by the work Carlos Beltran is doing in his native Puerto Rico to try to give back and help kids.
Q: Mike Matheny is a man of faith. As someone who follows the team, how has his faith affected the way he manages people, not necessarily only on the baseball side, but overall?
A: I think he sees the bigger picture and understands there is far more to life than winning or losing a baseball game. Make no mistake, he is as intense a competitor as I have ever covered, both as a player and manager and wants to win. He cares about his players more as people first and players second, and I think that's why his players have such great respect for him.
Q: Each chapter in the book includes a player or staff member's favorite Bible verse. What's your favorite verse?
A: Isaiah 26:3. He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in Him whose thoughts turn often to the Lord.
Q: As you point out in the book, Lance Berkman was a key faith leader in 2012. Who has taken on that role this season? Who are some of the more vocal Christian leaders in the clubhouse and team chapel services?
A: Adam Wainwright. I think, given his new contract and success, and getting a little older now, he feels more comfortable in that role and it is something he enjoys. Even though he is not as vocal in public, Matt Holliday is also one of the leaders on the team and a resource for all of the younger players, Christians or not.
Q: What do you hope readers come away with from this book?
A: To get a better idea of who these people are off the field, and how their faith is such an important part of their lives. When the only side people see is what they do on the field, it is refreshing to me to find out what makes them tick, what kind of people they are, and I hope readers get that information from this book.
Q: You write about Skip Schumaker's charitable efforts last season. What are some other ways players live out their faith?
A: Every one has a different story. I talked about Carlos Beltran starting a high school in Puerto Rico. Jason Motte has a foundation and does a fundraiser in his hometown of Memphis every offseason for cancer research. He befriended a young cancer patient this season and had him ride around the field with him during the opening day parade of players. Matt Holliday and his wife Leslee are very involved with Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center. I think all of the players do what they can, and try to live their lives as a positive example for others.