DENVER -- On some pitching staffs, Adam Wainwright would not only be the ace, he'd be the high man on the totem pole.
He's established himself as a top-flight starter with three years of quality work. He has a World Series ring from 2006 as the Cardinals' closer. And he's a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award this year.
But all of that just makes him third, if that, in prestige and prominence with the Cardinals. Two of Wainwright's mentors are also his rotation-mates, and he loves working with them and learning from them. He's been picking the brain of Chris Carpenter since he was a rookie in '06. And now he has a favorite from his childhood on his team as well. Wainwright is having the time of his life pitching on a Major League staff with John Smoltz.
Wainwright got to know Smoltz when he was a prospect in the Atlanta organization, but he was traded to St. Louis before he reached the Majors.
"It's been cool," Wainwright said. "Just knowing him when we weren't teammates, he was always willing to give me advice. He'd mentor me if I had a question on preparing or working out in the offseason. He was always there for me. And knowing him as a teammate now, what a goofball he is, is kind of cool.
"What I think is cool about him is that he's going to the Hall of Fame and he still treats everybody the way they're supposed to be treated."
A couple of the Cardinals' younger pitchers do come to Wainwright for advice and help once in a while. After all, he is a top starter in his own right.
"I just know that there isn't anybody, in any situation, that you wouldn't give the ball to him and match him up against," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's a top-of-the-rotation guy."
But with veterans like Smoltz and Carpenter at the ready, and even Kyle Lohse, Wainwright knows it's not going to happen too often.
"I don't think so," he said. "I'm definitely not a mentor, I don't think. I think [Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth] reach out every now and then just because I think they can kind of relate with where they are in their careers. I don't think I've reached that point yet. Without somebody else telling me that, I don't think I should ever say that."
But when the time comes, he will have learned from two of the best. Smoltz is almost certainly headed for Cooperstown. Carpenter is a Cy Young winner -- and yet even he was excited to get Smoltz on the roster and to start talking pitching with him.
"If you can't learn in this environment," Wainwright said, "get out of here and do something else."