Kerry Wood | Profile
The beloved Cubs pitcher comes back at a critical time.
Seated before his locker in the clubhouse of Mesa, Arizona’s Hohokam Park, on the eve of the Chicago Cubs’ first spring-training game of 2011, reliever Kerry Wood swears he has no regrets about his career as a Chicago Cub.
Wait—well, no. There is one.
Now 33, the right-handed relief pitcher returns this season to the team he first broke in with, and to the city where he is much beloved. Wood reportedly refused larger offers from the White Sox and the Yankees in favor of a $1.5 million, one-year deal on the North Side, where he will serve as setup man to Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.
Wood, “Kid K”—the fireballing phenom who transformed from wonder boy to comeback kid to reclamation project and yet never completely lost his way (though he confirms he was 30 minutes from retirement more than once)—still kicks himself for one thing: flaking out on MJ.
“The Bulls had a playoff game later [the] day I struck out 20,” Wood says of his historic strikeout spree in 1998, his rookie year. “Michael [Jordan] called and personally invited me to come down. I was so tired, I couldn’t do it.… I regret not going at his invitation.”
With an earned run average below four in each of the last four seasons, Wood’s return to the star-crossed franchise that hasn’t won a championship in 103 seasons brings a sense of closure, both for Cubs fans and for the six-foot-five native Texan.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be back as a player,” Wood says, grinning. “But I always thought I’d be part of this organization someday.”
Fan loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Jerry Seinfeld, commenting on modern sports’ mercenary environment, famously observed, “You’re actually rooting for the laundry, when you get right down to it.”
But Wood is a rare specimen: the returning perennial. The Cubs’ first-round choice in the 1995 amateur draft spurned money to be right where he belongs, to again be That Guy, whose mere presence—practicing rundowns or doing a little side tossing in the Arizona winter sunshine—signals to Cubs fans that all is right in the world.