Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open

Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open
May 20, 2012, 3:19 am
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Kerry Wood felt the same adrenaline before his first inning in the big leagues. His last time in a Cubs uniform brought back the same mix of nerves and excitement.

Wood was a 20-year-old rookie facing the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium on April 12, 1998. Nearing his 35th birthday, now married with three children, he saved his most memorable moment for the end.

Walking off the mound on Friday at Wrigley Field, Wood knew Justin might be in the dugout, but he didnt expect his son to run out for a big hug.

My favorite memory, Wood said. You cant get any higher than that.

The rush is going to start wearing off now. Wood went to a Little League game on Saturday, before standing behind a podium at home plate for his retirement press conference. He was at peace knowing he wouldnt have to crank up his right shoulder again, hoping it would work.

With Cubs players and coaches standing behind him, and team executives lining the perimeter, Wood looked into the television cameras, his eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Wood looked like he was about to lose it while talking about his wife Sarah: Shes been through the ups, the downs. Sometimes it seemed like there were more downs than ups. But she was my rock.

Wood thanked the Ricketts family, former general manager Jim Hendry (for having his back) and the managers he considered father figures (Jim Riggleman, Dusty Baker).

Wood thanked the teammates who taught him how to play the game the right way and the late Ron Santo for teaching me what it meant to be a Cub.

Wood who has a sharp sense of humor and could be prickly with reporters even thanked the media and kept rolling: Obviously, we know we need to thank some trainers and doctors.

The injuries are part of Woods legacy, and hes comfortable with that. He retires with an 86-75 career record, 63 saves, 1,582 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA. He averaged 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, the second-highest total of any pitcher in major-league history behind only Randy Johnson.

You know when its time, Wood said. Your bodys telling you and obviously the results were telling me. So Ive got no regrets. I played this game as long as I could, as hard as I could.

It made me who I was. If I didnt have those injuries, Im not sure I would be the person I am.

Wood doesnt know what hes going to do next, except spend more time with his family.

After recharging, Wood is open to a role in the front office similar to the one Greg Maddux once took with Hendry, as a special assistant working with the organizations young pitchers.

Is there anyone better to teach them about handling fame and adversity?

Weve gone through a lot, Wood said. I couldnt have asked for anything more. Im not going to look back and say: It could have been, what should have been.

Yes, the flamethrower from Grand Prairie High School has come a long way. He has no plans to leave Chicago.

I love the city (and) the attitude of the people, Wood said. Im a kid from Texas that showed up here at 17 or 18 years old and took a white-knuckle cab ride all the way to the stadium from the airport. I just never thought Id be able to it. The place grows on you.

Wood has earned more than 70 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. He can do whatever he wants with the rest of his life.

Wood never won a World Series ring or the Cy Young awards others may have envisioned when he was the next big thing. But he will walk away with one unforgettable image from Clark and Addison, a place fathers and sons have been coming to for generations.

Its home this is why I came back, Wood said. These fans, this stadium, this atmosphere, day games, everything about it. This place was just beautiful and rocking and thats the way I want to remember Wrigley Field.