The Wood Family Foundation’s highest-profile event to date is about to take place at, where else, Wrigley Field on Saturday, Aug. 10 with the inaugural Woody's Wiffle Ball Classic tournament.
The festivities will take place on the field itself, which will be built out to look like four separate, historic baseball fields -- Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Iowa's "Field of Dreams" -- each with backdrops and balls being hit into the bleachers. Among the day's activities include a Home Run Derby, Corporate Challenge and the main event -- the Wiffle for a Diffle Celebrity Tournament, featuring an all-star roster that includes Bill Murray, Matthew Perry, Jenny McCarthy, George Wendt and numerous local/national media celebs and former athletes.
The idea for the Wiffle Ball Classic sprouted up in, of all places ... California.
"Sarah and I spent a week in Malibu and one night we were having dinner with Chris Chelios and some of his friends," said Wood. "I was talking to actor John C. McGinley at that dinner and he was telling me about a Wiffle Ball field he built in his backyard. There are celebrities up and down the coast there in Malibu, so they end up having tournaments under the lights at his place and they all love it. We were already talking about how to replace our bowling event and thought it kind of ran its course, so I just kind of looked at [Sarah], elbowed her and had her jump right into the conversation. When we got back from vacation, we were on the phone right away trying to set it up. We're very fortunate [Cubs Chairman] Tom Ricketts is on our board of the Foundation and he was gracious enough to let us borrow his stadium for a day. We thankfully have a great partnership with the Cubs and they have been just great to us from Day 1, so we couldn’t do this without them. It was another event that we felt we could pull off that couldn't be duplicated anywhere else."
Kaplan, who will be participating in the celebrity game, wasn't surprised in the least bit that the Woods were able to turn this idea into a reality, especially at Wrigley Field.
"I'm really excited to be a part it," said Kaplan. "Kerry and Sarah always come up with new and unique ways to benefit their foundation, which is amazing to me. Everyone does a golf tournament, then Woody creates a bowling tourney and people started copying that and then there were bowling tournaments everywhere, but nobody can copy Wiffle Ball at Wrigley Field. Plus, Woody's the only guy who would be able to get the keys to the ballpark to do something like this! He’s got such great support and respect from both the sports and entertainment world and it's just going to be very cool day to be a part of from start to finish."
"We know that Wrigley Field sells itself, but again, it speaks volumes about the Foundation and the team that we have with all the hard work they do non-stop, year-round," Wood added. "First you start with a couple celebrities and they tell their friends, next thing you know you have a few more on board, so we've had great feedback from so many celebs.
"It will be great time out there. Plus, we have some of our kids from Englewood who are coming to Wrigley to help out and even our scholarship winner, 'Gaby,' she wants to help out the entire day. In the long haul, with those first five or six kids that are jumping on board, we hope turns into hundreds or thousands of people that want to give back and put that effort out there."
(NOTE: Fans can still support the upcoming Woody’s Wiffle Ball Classic at Wrigley Field by visiting woodyswiffleballclassic.org for tickets and additional information. Comcast SportsNet Chicago will also be airing an exclusive access, 90-minute highlights and interviews special on the day's entire list of events on Monday, Aug. 26at 7 p.m Central Time)
We know that Wrigley Field sells itself, but again, it speaks volumes about the Foundation and the team that we have with all the hard work they do non-stop, year-round
— Kerry Wood, on the effort the staff at the Kerry Wood Foundation put in to make the Woody's Wiffle Ball Classic a reality
In addition to his 24/7 dedication to the growth of the Foundation, Wood is also making sure to find time to help out the Cubs organization as they continue their rebuilding process. This past spring, Wood was a "coach" down in Mesa, Ariz., for the first time in his life -- a role that he took seriously, but tread lightly on at first.
"It's weird at first," said Wood. "I just really wanted to stay out of the way because I've been in the clubhouse as a player and you see certain guys floating around, so I get it and I try to stay out of the way. But obviously I'm there to help and I'm just another baseball mind around to help out the young guys.
"It was a tough adjustment in the beginning, not as far as me missing the game, but I didn't want to give too much advice unless they came up to me and asked for my opinion. I had a chance to work with a few players, along with pitching coach Chris Bosio, and help out any way I could. I'm someone who's played in Chicago for many years. I came in as a young player just like them. I feel more important when I can help young guys who are about to be exposed to a big city and a big media market because it can be a shell shock to them."
Hollandsworth believes that Wood is a natural teacher of the game and is someone who could mentor players into playing the game the right way.
"I think when you feel challenged to take those things on, if he were to explore [coaching], I think that opportunity would present itself," he said. "Now, the question is 'does Kerry want that?' and that's what it comes really down to. I can't stop teaching people about the game. From my analyst work on CSN to helping my sons, I want to be involved and I want everyone to know how to play the game the game the right way."
"Kerry and I both lived through the performance-enhancing era that has stained a lot of the things that our group and our colleagues that did it the right way," added Hollandsworth. "We all fell victim to it and I look at that as a responsibility to the next generation of younger kids in creating a passion for the sport and a desire to see them do it the right way. Kerry has an undying passion for this sport and had great success during his career here in Chicago, but I also know he cares an awful lot about where this game goes. You have to first and foremost have a love and passion for the sport beyond the dollars and cents that come with it. You have to want to win championships if you're a player ... but you also have to want to succeed in life. Kerry maintains that feeling in every aspect of his life today and continues to pass that along to others with his foundation."
Wood didn't shy away either when asked about continuing his assistance to the Cubs next year or even further down the road.
"My kids are 3, 5 and 7, so I'm in the prime years of finally being able to enjoy that. [Cubs President, Baseball Operations] Theo [Epstein], [Cubs GM] Jed [Hoyer], Tom [Ricketts] and the entire team have been great to me and as I think as we get further along here -- in the next year or so -- I will definitely get more involved and then, whatever Theo can use me as going forward, I would definitely be able to help them out and do whatever he needs. I even went off and did a couple scouting trips this year before the draft and saw a couple college kids throw. Again, I'm there to give my opinion on what I saw, short-term, long-term, all that stuff. They do their homework, they ask the right questions and they get the right people in position to succeed."
So, as Kerry Wood and his family continue their journey to improve lives of children in the city of Chicago, he never wants to be remembered as someone who did things solely for himself or for the spotlight. He prides himself as being a part of a group effort.
"I want to be remembered as a man who loved his family and his community first and foremost," said Wood. "As a ballplayer, I want to be remembered as a good teammate, as somebody who played the game the right way and had integrity in the sport and that’s really all I need. The fact that we did it together as 25 ... we lost, we won, we had heartbreak and we celebrated, but we did it all together as 25."
"History will recognize that he was a great talent," said Hendry. "He understood the people of Chicago very early on in his career and appreciated them and, instead of having a kind of entitlement type of attitude -- which so many famous athletes can grow into -- he chose to use his success and popularity in a very positive way. Plus I think Sarah was a tremendous influence on him as well.
"What they have done -- and are committed to continue doing in Chicago -- is admirable to say the least," added Hendry. "He has a lot on his plate for a guy that's not playing anymore and it's all good. I have been able to watch what they've done the past year or two from afar and I couldn't be prouder to watch him become a great community leader."
Life will always have its challenges. The world is not, and never will be, a perfect place. It's good to know there are people out there like Kerry Wood who are determined to be that "Life Changer" for those in need.