Monday, June 02, 2008
My Cubs Crush: Kerry Wood
Yes, if you are not into baseball or are a Brewers, Cardinals, or White Sox fan, feel free to bail on reading this post right now. For I am about to indulge myself and rhapsodize about my favorite Chicago Cub, current closing pitcher Kerry Wood.
I was first drawn to Kerry a few years back for several reasons of varying silliness. In the pretty silly category: I am a sucker for blond guys with beards. Also, I loved the look in his eye when he’d watch the catcher for the signs.
In the not-so-silly category--and see also my post on my awe fetish--Kerry is a talented guy. In May of 1998, when I was obsessed with hockey and two months into my total fixation on Guy Carbonneau, Kerry Wood made the sports headlines in a big way. So big that this hockey fan actually read about him--a baseball player! Kerry struck out 20 batters in a game at Wrigley Field against the Houston Astros. It was only his sixth outing in the majors and he was 20 years old. The 20K performance tied the all-time major league record. I never forgot who Kerry was. When I became a Cubs fan in 2003, I fell for this illustrious starter with his mean fastball and ability to occasionally hit home runs.
The road since then has been a rocky one. Kerry has been plagued by injuries and it’s seemed to me he spent more time on the disabled list than pitching. Many a time I have asked myself why having recovered from crushing on a sports guy about to retire (M. Carbonneau) I chose a sports guy who was always hurt. I did, however, have the good fortune to go to a game at Wrigley in 2006 after which a bunch of players greeted fans in the parking lot. I got within a couple yards of my hero. Nevertheless, it hasn’t been easy for me to get to see him pitch over the years.
Kerry won a spot in the bullpen in 2007 and enamored himself all the more to me by signing a one year contract that (by MLB standards) was astonishingly cheap. He felt he owed this to the Chicago Cubs for having been injured for so much of his career. He missed two-thirds of the season (argh!) but returned to pitch in relief really well the final months. He signed a new contract with the Cubs for 2008, turning down more lucrative deals from other teams, enamoring me even more! Kerry is now the longest-standing active player for the Cubs, as loyal to the team as are its crazy fans.
In spring training 2008, Kerry earned the closer role. This job is plenty sexy and plenty scary. I hate it when the win depends on Kerry getting three guys out...because sometimes he doesn’t. Fortunately, hardly ever: he currently has 14 saves in 18 chances. We joke that if Kerry hits the first batter, we’re doomed, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get the save. As for plenty sexy: There’s nothing like watching him destroy three guys with his 96 mph fastball and then step down from the mound to the shouts of “Cubs win!” with the faintest smile on his face, as if he doesn’t want to look too conceited.
Kerry Wood is not a superhero though, really. Some days he is on, some days off, like any professional player. That said, he is still one of the best in the game and does plenty of things to make me proud. And fortunately, in terms of character he is “on his game” every single day. He’s charitable, a team player, loyal, and good-hearted.
That look he gets before letting loose with an unhittable pitch doesn’t hurt either, nor does the blond beard. Kerry Wood is my Cubs Crush, and if no goats or Steve Bartman’s get in the way, maybe this fall he’ll be part of a World Series team.
Champagne in the blond beard wouldn’t hurt either.