BC-BBN—Cubs-Wood’s Goodbye, 1st Ld-Writethru,694
Cubs’ Kerry Wood returns to Wrigley to say goodbye
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kerry Wood’s first trip as a retired baseball player Saturday morning was one any dad can appreciate. He went to a little league game, which he described as awesome.
And then hours later he stepped to a microphone near home plate at Wrigley Field as his now ex-teammates stood behind him. And Wood made another delivery, reeling off a long list of people he needed to thank for a major league career that spanned 14 years.
Teammates, coaches, managers, his wife, his dad, trainers, former general manager Jim Hendry, team owners, and his friends on the clubhouse staff.
“I’m going to miss you guys,” Wood said, dressed in a coat and tie instead of his familiar uniform with No. 34 on the back. “I’m going to miss everybody.”
Wood retired following Friday’s game against the White Sox after striking out his final and only batter of the day. The latest injury to his shoulder and another trip to the disabled list — his 16th — made it apparent that it was time to go. But he wanted a final chance to pitch at Wrigley Field before peeling off the uniform.
And after all the hubbub Friday, he made it official Saturday in a ceremony about four hours before the Cubs met the White Sox.
“You know when it’s time, the body was telling me and obviously the results were telling me,” Wood said after his formal remarks.
The right-hander had an 0-2 record and an 8.31 ERA over 10 games this season and had struggled mightily after a return from the disabled list.
“So I’ve got no regrets. I played this game as long as I could and as hard as I could. And I’m fine saying that.”
Wood had plenty of memorable moments during his stay with the Cubs. He played with Chicago from 1998-2008 and then rejoined the team last season after a brief stint with the Indians and Yankees.
There was the 20-strikeout game in his fifth major league start in 1998 and a couple of playoff wins in 2003 when the Cubs made a serious run at the World Series. But he said the one he’ll remember most came Friday after he struck out the White Sox’s Dayan Vicieo on three pitches.
As he left to a rousing ovation, his son Justin came out of the dugout and gave him a big hug.
“You can’t put anything above that,” said Wood, who with his wife and three kids went for one more stroll in the Wrigley Field outfield Saturday.
When he’s ready, Wood will have a job with the Cubs in some capacity, but he wasn’t ready to look that far ahead. He’s gotten numerous texts from all over the country and was saluted by former teammates and managers, who commended his perseverance.
During Saturday’s ceremony the Cubs presented him with a picture of him and his son in that on-field embrace Friday and also a flag of his 20-strikeout game.
Asked why he was so popular in Chicago — the fans often chanted “Ker-ry, Ker-ry,” as they did one last time Friday — Wood said he felt they appreciated all he went through to pitch, especially with so many injuries. And he first pitched at Wrigley when he was 20 years old, so he grew up in front of them.
“This is something that I’ve dealt with since way back when. I’ve been battling injuries since after my first year,” said Wood, who missed the entire 1999 season after elbow surgery.
“It made me who I was. If I didn’t have those injuries, I don’t think I would be the person I am.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who is new to Chicago, said the latter part of a player’s career can be difficult, but that Wood handled it well.
“The player evaluating himself properly in the context of the team can be tough. He’s able to step outside himself, view the situation, understand what he needed to do to make himself happy and sort of what was best for him and the club,” Epstein said.
“I really admire what he was able to do. It’s unique.”