Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open

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Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open

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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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