Kerry Wood: Life Changer, Part 2

KERRY WOOD:
LIFE CHANGER

A year after his retirement from the game and with his foundation’s upcoming inaugural celebrity Wiffle Ball tournament at Wrigley Field, Cubs legend Kerry Wood is making his next pitch to make a difference in the lives of Chicago's troubled youth

August 8, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Many athletes go through a very difficult transition period in their lives once they retire from professional sports. Everything from personal finances, to relationships, to family dynamics, to even coping with no longer being in the spotlight can all have a damaging effect on an athlete’s post-playing career life. Wood looks at his first year of retirement as more of a relief to him and to those around him.

"[Retirement] has been great and I've played with a lot of guys where it's not great," said Wood. "Again, dealing with the shoulder issues over the past five years and knowing any day could be your last game kind of helped me prepare for that. It has been a fairly smooth transition for me and I'd like to think my wife would say the same. I know I'm home a lot more (laughs), so things have kind of changed that way, but I'm able to enjoy my first summer in 30 years where I didn’t have to play baseball or prepare for baseball. I have time with the family, I coach Little League and it's just been a great summer with my family."

Sarah Wood couldn't be happier for not only her husband, but for her entire family, now that "Dad" is around a lot more these days.

"We have truly enjoyed every minute of Kerry's retirement,” said Sarah. "We took our first summer family vacation, Kerry coached Justin's Little League team, our kids have been able to have their dad at every event/game/school activity, and we have been able to dedicate even more 'hands on' time to the Foundation."

Even though he is only one year removed from donning a uniform, Wood still feels the close attachment to the game and has kept a close eye on how baseball continues to be marred by numerous performance-enhancing drugs scandals and how some of the game's best players -- including his former Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez, who is now facing a 211-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal -- continue to drag it in the mud. His deepest hope is that the game can once again regain its glory and get past this disheartening period in baseball history.

"You have to play with respect and respect the game," said Wood. "When I came up and when guys like Todd [Hollandsworth] came up, we all felt the game didn't owe us anything and we respected the game for what it was and kept that integrity. I think over the last few years we've seen that change. A lot of guys will get [to the big leagues] and it's almost like baseball's been waiting for them and they feel like the game owes them something.

"This is going to be a black eye on the sport for a little bit, but I'm glad to see it's gone down like this. We've got two MVPs, we've got three or four All-Stars on this list. Then you've got some guys no one has heard of and you've got some minor league guys, so it's not like there was just a few out there ... this is through professional baseball up and down the ladder. They're going to take a hit, but in my opinion, it will bring integrity back to the game and again respect the game for what it's delivered for over a hundred years. [This past Monday] will go down in history as one of those days that baseball changed. There are too many guys out there doing it the right way. Seeing these guys cheat, serve their suspension and come back and sign $20 million deals after they were caught cheating, it's just not good for the game."

Outside of voicing his disdain and disappointment, the scandals are something that Wood knows he is helpless in controlling. But the one thing he is determined to do, and at the very least help shape, is the mindset of Chicago's youth.

We've focused on helping kids. We have a number of targeted, lower-income neighborhoods in Chicago and this has become a passion of my life. Children are so important for our future and the future of this city.
Kerry Wood, on the Kerry Wood Foundation, it's focus and what drives him to help Chicago's youth

The facts cannot be hidden. Chicago has one of the highest crime rates in the nation.

According to the web site NeighborhoodScout.com, "one's chance of becoming a victim of either 'violent' or 'property' crime [in Chicago] is one in 18 ... when you compare Chicago to other communities of similar population, the Chicago crime rate ('violent' and 'property' crimes combined) is quite a bit higher than average ... regardless of how Chicago does relative to all communities in America of all sizes, when compared it to communities of similar population size, its crime rate per thousand residents stands out as higher than most."

Frightening facts indeed, but the city desperately needs heroes out there to help make a difference in the lives of the kids of Chicago right now. Someone to show them that people do care ... that someone does want to listen to them and that there are organizations that are trying to give them a chance to succeed in life.

The Wood Family Foundation is just getting started on that mission.

The Woods founded the Wood Family Foundation, which is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, in June 2011 with the goal of improving the lives of children in and around Chicago by raising funds and awareness for its children's programs and other children's charities they support. The Wood Family Foundation also acts as an advocate for children in the Chicago community, inspiring others to join them in their mission of giving children the resources they need to succeed.

"We're just a little over 2 years old now and we've had great support from the city, the community -- including my friends & neighbors -- and we were able to get off to such a great start," said Wood. "We've held events over the years for different charities, but when I re-signed and came back to Chicago in 2011, I knew I was going to retire here, live here and raise my family here. I think that’s when I decided that was the time to launch the Foundation and get more serious about making a difference.

"We've focused on helping kids. We have a number of targeted, lower-income neighborhoods in Chicago and this has become a passion of my life. Children are so important for our future and the future of this city.  We’re not about changing a kid's day ... we're about changing their process."

Just last month (July 15-19), for the second-straight year, Wood, his wife Sarah and the Foundation held a week-long baseball clinic for kids, ages 5-12, in Chicago's South Side Englewood community. For the record, according to a Chicago Tribune report, from June 27-July 27 of this year, the Englewood section of Chicago had more violent crimes (112) than any other area in the entire city.

"We had a lot of familiar faces back again this year at the baseball clinic and it was great to get back in contact with these kids," said Wood. "We even went back [to Englewood] last December and we told them we would be coming back and still be a part of their lives. Just getting to know these kids and giving them a chance to get to know us and what we're all about is very important in the process.

"Sometimes, some kids come in and don't want to look you in the eye and they're hardened and, by the end of the week, they don't want to let go of your leg and hugging you and asking, 'When are you coming back?' I know we've made an impact. We get letters from these families, from the moms and grandmas, even some of our older kids write letters to us and give us updates on their grades. It's nice that they respond and you see the positive reaction you get when you surround these kids and families with people that really care about them."

Kaplan points to Wood's wife Sarah as a major factor in driving the Foundation as a whole.

"Your character is revealed in a number of different ways," said Kaplan. "I always knew he was a good guy, but I didn't know he had all this inside him, but I think when he married Sarah and they had kids and she's very much about this community, I think Kerry had it inside of him, but Sarah brought it out."

A major milestone for the Wood Family Foundation occurred earlier this spring as the very first recipient of the Kerry and Sarah Wood Family Foundation Scholarship was given to Chicago Bulls Preparatory Charter School graduating senior and Lawndale neighborhood resident Gabriella (Gaby) Santoyo at the Foundation’s Sky Is The Limit breakfast event at Willis Tower. As the scholarship winner, Santoyo, who is a member of the National Honors Society and the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars program, will enroll in a full-time course of study this fall at the University of Illinois-Chicago and live on campus. All tuition, fees, assessments, books, and room and board are included, along with a new laptop computer.

"In the future, I can see us mentoring kids from the age of 5, get to know them and their families and be in constant contact with them all the way through school and, hopefully as we grow the Foundation, we'll be able to send even more and more off to college and hopefully break a cycle," said Wood.

Sarah Wood concurred.

"Approaching only our third year, I can't believe what we have accomplished already," she said. "Our hope is to continue to become a foundation that is an advocate for children's programs, focusing on our four target neighborhoods: Lawndale, Austin, Humboldt Park, and Englewood. Between our summer baseball clinic in Englewood and our scholarship program that sends a scholar each year from one of our neighborhoods, our plan is to create a mentoring program that can continue to make a long-term difference in the lives of our city's children."

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