Waino's fantasy football initiative a charity success

PHOENIX -- Pairing his love of fantasy football with his mission to service basic needs across the world, Adam Wainwright introduced a unique charity initiative two years ago that continues to grow in its reach.

Two years after first inviting fans to play fantasy football against him and his Cardinals teammates, Wainwright has spread his Big League Impact fantasy football event into eight Major League cities this year. Each has a big league player championing the cause and rallying teammates and local celebrities to be a part of an initiative that, in two years, has raised an estimated $670,000.

Wainwright, while quick to remind that he finished as the national runner-up last season, is proudest of how that money has made an impact in various communities and countries.

Last year, money raised from the St. Louis fantasy football event helped feed 26,000 children in the area through Operation Food Search. Other funds have gone to Water Missions International, which has built safe water and sanitation solutions in Honduras and Haiti. Wainwright has visited both countries to assist with the projects. Money has also been used to construct 20 homes in Mexico.

In addition to continuing several of those projects this next year, Wainwright has even grander goals.

"We're going to change and save lives, just like we did last year, but at a greater level," Wainwright said. "Our goal is to cure 500 people of blindness in Africa."

For every person who registers to play fantasy football against Wainwright, enough money will be raised to help seven people see.

"It's actual, and it's real, and it's changing lives. That's so powerful for me," said Wainwright, who has been sidelined with an Achilles injury since April. "The goal of mine from the very beginning of this initiative was as soon as somebody gives me their money, I want to be able to tell them where that goes. I love looking people in the eye and saying, 'Do you know what you did? You just helped provide clean water to 1,500 people.' That is impactful."

A few openings remain for the Big League Impact fantasy football draft taking place in St. Louis on Sept. 4. In addition to recruiting several teammates to participate, Wainwright will be joined by actor Jon Hamm, National Football League Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, and Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.

Other cities/players hosting leagues this year include Washington D.C. (Max Scherzer), Atlanta (John Smoltz), San Francisco (Hunter Pence), New York (David Wright), Minnesota (Kyle Gibson), Cincinnati (Skip Schumaker) and Pittsburgh (Neil Walker). Money raised in each city will be split between the host player's selected charity and Big League Impact's charity work.

For those not ready to commit to a full season of fantasy football, Wainwright also plans to introduce a midseason challenge later in the NFL season.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.