It was the ending everyone expected. Kerry Wood walked out onto the balcony and soaked in the applause from the fans packed into a Hilton Chicago ballroom.
The final scene of the negotiation seemed choreographed. It had to be a Friday night announcement at the opening ceremony for the Cubs Convention. But it would have been difficult to script it this way.
The new Mr. Cub had to wait more than two months to close a last-minute, one-year, 3 million deal that contains a 3 million club option for 2013 (with no buyout).
This will mark Woods 16th and possibly 17th seasons in the organization. The franchise icon will still probably hear the roar of the crowd at the 2032 convention.
But by Friday, Wood was about 25 minutes away from signing elsewhere. The 34-year-old reliever said he had agreed to terms with another team he declined to say which one and was waiting to get the call for a physical.
Near the end of last season, Wood said he would probably retire if he couldnt pitch for the Cubs, and smiled when it was suggested that he had just given up all his leverage.
I wasnt ready to retire, Wood said. I didnt feel like I wanted to be forced into that. I still love the game and I have plenty left. Thats what I said. But I think people are allowed to change their mind.
Woods 1.5 million expiring contract was set in motion 13 months ago, after he attended Ron Santos funeral and felt a pull back toward the organization. The understanding was that he would take a discount to become a Cub for life, even after his playing career ended.
Wood had a strong relationship with Jim Hendry, the general manager at the time. But once Hendry got fired, you knew the Cubs would find a colder way of doing business.
The speculation mounted among fans and the media this week as they counted down toward the convention and Woods charity event on Friday night at Harry Carays Tavern on Navy Pier.
The Philadelphia Phillies were known to be in on Wood, who said at one point he thought I was on four different teams in three days and nearly resigned to leaving.
Roughly 90 minutes before the signing was announced, Theo Epstein played it coy. The president of baseball operations said the Cubs wont give in to external pressure.
PR doesnt play a factor at all, Epstein said. I think if you start making baseball decisions based on PR, youre losing, whether you know it or not. But what does matter is the additional value (someone) can bring by how he impacts his teammates. Theres more to a player than just the numbers on the back of his baseball card.
(Wood) is an outstanding teammate and he understands the importance of mentoring younger pitchers. He understands how to deal with some of the distractions here in Chicago. Hes not shy about setting a good example in the clubhouse.
He handles himself really well off the field and is an active member of the community. All that matters. But the single most important factor is what hes going to contribute to the Cubs on the field.
All these years later, Wood is an eighth-inning guy, but still the star of the show. He was asked why he has such a connection with Cubs fans.
You have to ask them, Wood said. Theyre diehard fans (whove) seen me kind of grow up here in the city and seen me go through injuries and bounce back and be a part of some special teams. I think that all goes into play. (They) know I love the city and love being here.