"I'm going to try to get through this without crying," he said. "But it may be tough."
On a day when the Cardinals announced they had signed the 31-year-old right-hander to an extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2018 season, the magnitude of the moment and the appreciation for all who had helped along the way were enough to force Wainwright to pause several times during his remarks.
Wainwright couldn't hide his emotion, choking up as he talked about teammates, past and present, as well as family, faith and future. He called up his daughters at one point, noting that he needed a hug.
"I feel like my heart is in St. Louis," said Wainwright, who made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 2005. "I love it there. I love driving to the field, seeing the arch, driving up and seeing Busch Stadium. It's a treat to work there every day and is something that continues to catch me off-guard. It makes me feel like I am way too blessed, more than I deserve.
"Usually, I'm not at a loss for words. But the city of St. Louis means so much to me that it's taking me a little bit to get it out."
Thursday morning's press conference was the culmination of about two months of negotiations between the Cardinals and Wainwright's agent, Steve Hammond, on a deal that will keep Wainwright out of the free-agent market next winter. The two sides settled on a five-year extension -- set to kick in after Wainwright makes $12 million this season -- in order to ensure Wainwright's long-term presence in the rotation.
The deal is worth $97.5 million, making it the largest for a pitcher in franchise history, surpassing Chris Carpenter's five-year, $63.5 million extension signed in 2006.
General manager John Mozeliak estimated that that the two sides agreed on the financial terms and length of the contract about four or five days ago, the rest of the details were then finalized this week. Owner Bill DeWitt Jr. described the negotiations as "hard," but also critical in order to keep Wainwright from landing on the free-agent market next offseason.
"He's a classic Cardinal," DeWitt said. "He's everything we're looking for as a Cardinal -- an elite talent, a great performer that pitches his best in important games, and beyond that represents the organization off the field and in the clubhouse at the highest level. He has everything that you'd want in a baseball player to represent the franchise."
One of the challenges of the negotiation was putting a value on intangibles. While comparable contracts could be consulted in finding the right value for a pitcher with Wainwright's on-field credentials, Wainwright's impact is not limited to the times he takes the mound.
Eager to mentor, and with a sincere desire to make those around him better, Wainwright is next in a growing line of veteran starters to lead the rotation in recent years. He wants to be who Carpenter was to him, who Woody Williams and Matt Morris and others were before.
The Cardinals also saw a need for that, as they project an influx of youth in their future rotations with the ascension of Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.
"When you look at the importance of what the St. Louis Cardinals are going to look like two, three, four years from now and understand that we have a lot of young talent coming up, I think the success of the last 10 years here in St. Louis was because we had those pillars in the clubhouse already," Mozeliak said. "To start deviating from that, I think, would be a dangerous place for us to be going. In terms of trying to put a dollar amount on it, I don't think any of us ever got to a point where we were clear on how to quantify it, but we certainly understood the importance of it."
Mike Matheny -- having seen that impact first from the eyes of a catcher and now in his role as manager -- said he was not shy in expressing to Mozeliak how impactful Wainwright's long-term presence would be.
"You take a talented pitcher who has been through a lot and overcome quite a bit and with the heart that he has to make people better, I don't know if you can really quantify down the road what this does for an organization," Matheny said. "He's going to have to bear that reputation that the organization has to keep that going. That's a great responsibility and it couldn't have happened to a better person."
As he accepted such responsibility, Wainwright distributed thanks to several who had impacted him. He singled out coaches Dave Duncan, Marty Mason and Derek Lilliquist; managers Tony La Russa and Matheny; teammates (both past and present) such as Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Jason Marquis, Braden Looper, Jason Isringhausen; and the Cardinals' training staff.
He mentioned his brother, mother and wife, Jenny, who was in attendance with their three daughters. As he looked to the corner of the room where Molina, Carlos Beltran, Jason Motte, Jake Westbrook and Matt Holliday were sitting, Wainwright noted that "some of the biggest reasons why I continue to grow as a man, not just as a baseball player, but as a man and a father, are sitting over there."
Wainwright recited an Old Testament scripture and then alluded to a New Testament one as he noted that "to whom much is given, much is required."
"I'm going to make the most of my opportunity here, and I just look forward to many more years as a St. Louis Cardinal," he added. "I can't wait to perform and make y'all proud of this contract."
Already the Cardinals' Opening Day starter, Wainwright will take the mound in Arizona on Monday free of concern about his future or free agency. He said he carries the "ace" label -- one earned with a career record of 80-48 and 3.15 ERA -- with expectations of greatness.
And evident on Thursday was how proud he is to be able to do this all as a Cardinal.
"It's more special than you could ever imagine," Wainwright said. "This is a special time for me. I am happy to be here. I'm fortunate to be here. I feel so blessed to be here. St. Louis, I love you."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.