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.

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.