He strolled to the mound that day as a boy and walked off as a man.
In what can be argued as the most dominant game ever pitched, Kerry Wood went from a promising young arm to a legend. But, in some ways, was this a curse? Could he ever really live up to the heightened scrutiny and unrealistic expectations? Ten years later, as he struggles to succeed in his new role as a closer, Kerry Wood is still beloved by Cubs fans. His effort, dedication and loyalty are attributes not always found in the modern-day athlete. His desire to win, his love of team and his quiet confidence are assets any pro player should have.
But with the exception of the 2003 season and the heart-wrenching playoffs that followed, he has never found the magic he took to the mound on May 6, 1998.
So how will Kerry Wood be remembered? How will he write the last few chapters of his legacy? In 25 years, will people look back on talent wasted? Or will he be remembered as a man who, against all odds, overcame an injury-riddled career to take his rightful place in Cubs history?
Weeks from a possible retirement in 2007, something strange happened; something that was the opposite of what had hamstrung him time and again. The pain was gone, he started feeling better, and soon he was pitching at Wrigley Field once again.
He entered 2008 in a different fashion than he entered most of the seasons in his career. He came in healthy …. and as a closer. Cubs’ fans know this has not gone as planned through the first five weeks of the season.
This year he has blown three saves with the ‘help’ of his defense. He looks untouchable for a few batters and then Jason Bay goes yard on him. He plunks a batter and gets out of his rhythm.
He is still searching for his place. He is still searching for his stuff. He can be a closer in this game. But is he hearing the footsteps of the next legendary Cubs closer? Or is he, indeed, the next legendary Cubs closer?
It never appears as if he doubts his ‘stuff.’ It never appears as if he has a confidence problem. But, in what is shaping up to be a competitive division, how long can Lou keep Kerry in the closer position?
He is the consummate pro. He is the consummate teammate. But how will he react? If he comes in to close a game this week, will he come through?
The ‘slurve’ was the key to the 20 strikeouts. It was the key to his 13-6 record his rookie year. Unfortunately, it was also the key to his Tommy John surgery. He rebounded with the others weapons in his arsenal to pitch effectively and successfully, that is, until he got injured again …. and again …. and, well, I could go on forever.
On the tenth anniversary of his greatest professional accomplishment; his future is still up in the air. What seemed as the stepping stone to greatness ten years ago, now lingers as a distant memory.
So how will his baseball biography end? What will we say ten years from now? Kerry Wood will never be hated by Cubs’ fans. But will he ever provide them what seemed to be a given that overcast Monday afternoon in 1998?
Cubs’ fans will always have 1998 and 2003 when it comes to ‘Kid K,’ but will they ever have anything else? Only Kerry Wood can decide that.
And for me, well, I would not have it any other way.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com and until next time ….
Stay Classy Kerry.