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Kerry Wood Gone From Baseball; Hardly Forgotten

Retired righty comes out to Skokie and greets fans, signs autographs for his new book.

The retired athlete coming out to greet his fans now that some time has passed from his last days on the field. It is a ritual played out seemingly daily in sports crazed America, but it still seems strange that Kerry Wood is that athlete.

Less than two weeks after saying goodbye at Wrigley Field, Wood, about to turn 35, was in Skokie Tuesday night signing his children’s book, All You Can Be: Learning & Growing Through Sports, which is intended to be an inspirational tome for children and teenagers.

Earlier:

“This is a positive story about ups and downs and how you can come through that and still be a success,” Wood said.

The book is an outgrowth of the Wood Family Foundation which he and his family are now spending a lot of time on as the pitcher once known as “Kid K" contemplates his future.

It was less than two weeks ago Wood pitched the final game of a career that seemed destined for greatness when he struck out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth career start in May 1998. But Wood’s body could never handle the strain of the game and the disabled list was a frequent destination over his 14 seasons.

But he had a legion of devoted fans, many of whom were on hand at Barnes and Noble Tuesday night waiting in a winding line to get an autograph and sometimes a picture. Many also received a hearty handshake and a “thanks for coming out” from the Texas native.

Wood, wearing an untucked blue shirt, received many compliments from his fans. He heard, “Thanks for all you have done for Chicago,” from one.  Another person come up and noted how New York Yankee lefty Andy Pettitte has come out of retirement after a year off. Wood shot down the suggestion politely, “No, no, no, can’t do that.”

Wood pitched his last game because he had been struggling in 2012, but in a storybook conclusion, he achieved career strikeout 1,582 against White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo and received a prolonged standing ovation from the Wrigley faithful. Just before he went into the dugout, his son Justin, 5, ran out to hug his daddy.

“That was special to me to have him run out and hug me and hold on for dear life,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that one.”

He adds, “It was a great experience. It was probably the highlight of my 14 years out there.”

Wood said he has not watched every single pitch of his former teammates in the two weeks since he left, but is keeping track of the team which has now won two in a row after having an embarrassing 12 game losing streak.

In these couple of weeks, he has made a one day trip to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin where he caught almost 60 smallmouth bass. The rest of his time has been divided between his foundation and his family where he is enjoying eating dinner at 7:05 on Cub game nights, something obviously he couldn’t do in the past. He says it is way too early to know what is next for him as possibilities of coaching or broadcasting have been tossed around.

On this night, it is a chance for his public to come out and say thank you in person. That goes from six-year-old Alton who is nervous because he has a White Sox jersey on (Wood is not upset) to a family from Bristol, IN who made the 2 ½ hour trek just to meet and greet, despite the children having to be back in school on Wednesday.

Among those waiting in the line is Skokie resident Seth Kennedy, 23, who donned a Cubs T-Shirt and was one of the first to greet Wood.

“His rookie year was the year I started getting into baseball. Watching him was the reason I started pitching,” said Kennedy who pitched at Niles North in 2004 and he recently graduated from Haverford College and soon will be enrolling at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

“He was so versatile,” Kennedy said. “When he started moving around from the rotation to the bullpen, it proved he was clearly someone who wanted to be around for the love of the game.”

Lois Berman, now of Morton Grove, but who lived in Skokie for 40 years was at Wrigley on that final day two weeks ago.

Berman is a baseball fan who has been going to games long enough to remember getting caught by her father as she cut school to go to games to see Hank Sauer and Andy Pafko play.

Her attendance at the book signing indicated how much she admired the right hander.

“I just think he sets a fine example with his persistence and the way he never gave up with all of his injuries,” Berman said. “I think he is a class act.”

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Leslie May 31, 2012 at 01:58 PM
FYI, the last name for the little boy in the picture should be spelled Vega.

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