Another stirring love sonnet for Kid K
Thanks to the extreme above-and-beyond extra-extra-largesse of Kurt, I will be Representing us all at Game 3 Saturday afternoon, in Section 303 (aka the Bleachers). This is a dream come true for me, I never thought a mere goatbuggerer like me could ever actually attend such an event. The odds of the Cubs playing post-season ball, calculated along with my ability to actually acquire a ticket, I felt were too astronomical for me to even consider.
Thanks again, Carolyn and Kurt, for thinking of me!!
So I prepare for the big day like I always do: copious web-surfing for Cubs knowledge. Some nuggets I stumbled across:
- Most wins, career? That would be Z, at 82
- Most homers, career? That would be the Fonz, with 246
- Cubs with triple digit home runs, career? 5 (Fonz, Lee, Ramirez, Floyd, Jones)
- Most playoff teams participated on (post-war era): 3, Kerry Wood
Sure enuf, if you're reading this right now, and yer ten years old (yep, fat chance of THAT happening, but anyway, bear with me, it's just poetic license), if yer a ten-year-old Cub fan, the team has gone to the playoffs THREE times in your lifetime! Dang, if that's not Yankee-esque success, it's, at least, Cardinals-esque. Yer a fan of a damn fine team with a nice track record of post-season ball!
Heck, kid, you've never had to endure more than two (2) losing seasons in a row!! No reason for YOU to not have faith that Cub Management is working to win. Wriggleworm wears out his welcome as Field Mangler...they bring in Baylor, who WAS a respected hire at the time. Baylor burns out...they throw a whole buttload of $$$ at Dusty Baker. After the grass grows on his lifeless corpse, they go drag Uncle Lou out of the booth and into the pinstripes. Not Wanting To Win, my ass...
...anyway, only one on-field employee has been a constant during this dizzy, heady period of Cubs Excellence. His ten (10) year tenure has covered the complete cycle of life in chaotic, accelerated form. There was SO much promise at the birth of his career!! The ROY, the 20 Ks, the Wild Card, the gutty, gritty start in Game 3 of the NLDS at home, against Atlanta. Here was a kid, only 20 who had the skills and the nutts to do it all, really hard, for a really long time, and once he just learned to harness his delivery...
...we would feel his growing pains most acutely, during his year-plus of recuperation from Tommy John Disease. He vowed to change his cross-body throwing motion, and although the 1998 Kid K never really returned again, it appeared that in time, he became a real pitcher, perhaps to become a true Ace, who could carry a staff on his broad shoulders...
...like most men in most lives, his peak came in his mid-twenties, at the end of 2003. Finally getting the help he always needed from Mark Prior and a solid lineup complete with a destructive leadoff man, Wood was Money down the stretch, and he did the heaviest lifting in the Cubs' first postseason series victory since 1908. He won Games 1 and 5, on the road, with relative ease...
...on the mound for Game 7 in the NLCS, he helped build himself a lead, that he eventually could not hold. There is evidence that he took that loss harder than even any of us could understand, so that means he took it hardest of all. I don't know about you, but I did not expect a win in Game 7; it was, along with probably the 1986 Mets-BoSox series, the most anti-climactic Game 7 I have ever known. All was lost; there was nothing left but the crying.
In 2004, as everyone around him started spinning apart, Kerry Wood matured as a leader, a voice of reason in the wacky universe of Big-League Baseball. He bonded with Greg Maddux; he stood alongside the troubled Prior; he always answered questions, refused surgery, kept taking the ball as often as he possibly could. The next two years, he showed up in better shape than the previous one, but his health failed him again and again. He did whatever he could - even taking a demotion to the bullpen without complaint. He never begged out - the violence of his delivery and the fragility of his flesh and tissue around his right shoulder kept him away from his duty.
Last year, he was limited for the third straight year by his shoulder. He only appeared in four games, winning only one. He was 29 years old, and in the last year of a lucrative contract dictated more by potential than by results. He had earned enough of the Tribune's money, and he had caused his GM, Jim Hendry, to answer more than his share of questions about him. I think it speaks volumes for the man that, this winter, the Cubs thought enough of him to offer him a one-year make-good contract, and he thought enough of the Cubs to accept it.
On the field, last Thursday's Houdini act aside, Wood has done very little to contribute to the 2007 Division Winners. He was mere hours from giving up on his career, when he decided to say F**k It and throw hard so the results would show up clearly on yet another MRI. When no pain ensued, he brought himself back to work for good. He has pitched 24 innings of middle relief, with only one outing of 2 innings. In a purely logical world, he would have been left off of the Playoff roster, for perhaps the potential long relief of Sean Marshall, or the left-handed throwing of Will Ohman. Both men have done far more this year on the field in the name of Cubdom. But, if you see a single article, or hear a single soundbite from a teammate decrying the decision, e-mail me RIGHT NOW and show me where it is.
For, you see, Kerry Wood is The Man on this team. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Birth, Rise, the Brilliance, the Fall, and in a small way, a resurrection. He is the man who stands up for all, and he is the man everyone stopped to applaud last Friday night in the clubhouse in Cincy. He is The Representative, he is The Face of The Cubs, certainly the Face of the Cubs during the past 10 years of relative success, and I maintain that more than Soriano, Lee, Zambrano, Ramirez, he is The Face of the team today.
I fear that the next physical setback for him, and there WILL be a next setback, will be the last one. Win or lose, and I'm just guessing here, but I think in his mind he has done all he can. Even he cannot expect to be re-habbed yet again, and I bet he probably doesn't want to. He has a wife, family, and all the money he will ever need. We might win the division next year - even though our recent history says otherwise. The Cubs might be back in four or five years, but Wood probably won't.
The time is now, the place is here, if the Cubs are ever going to win a World Series again, it should be 2007, and if they are going to win it for anyone in particular, they should win it for Woody.