Bulls

Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open

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Kerry Wood steps into the great wide open

Kerry Wood felt the same adrenaline before his first inning in the big leagues. His last time in a Cubs uniform brought back the same mix of nerves and excitement.

Wood was a 20-year-old rookie facing the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium on April 12, 1998. Nearing his 35th birthday, now married with three children, he saved his most memorable moment for the end.

Walking off the mound on Friday at Wrigley Field, Wood knew Justin might be in the dugout, but he didnt expect his son to run out for a big hug.

My favorite memory, Wood said. You cant get any higher than that.

The rush is going to start wearing off now. Wood went to a Little League game on Saturday, before standing behind a podium at home plate for his retirement press conference. He was at peace knowing he wouldnt have to crank up his right shoulder again, hoping it would work.

With Cubs players and coaches standing behind him, and team executives lining the perimeter, Wood looked into the television cameras, his eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Wood looked like he was about to lose it while talking about his wife Sarah: Shes been through the ups, the downs. Sometimes it seemed like there were more downs than ups. But she was my rock.

Wood thanked the Ricketts family, former general manager Jim Hendry (for having his back) and the managers he considered father figures (Jim Riggleman, Dusty Baker).

Wood thanked the teammates who taught him how to play the game the right way and the late Ron Santo for teaching me what it meant to be a Cub.

Wood who has a sharp sense of humor and could be prickly with reporters even thanked the media and kept rolling: Obviously, we know we need to thank some trainers and doctors.

The injuries are part of Woods legacy, and hes comfortable with that. He retires with an 86-75 career record, 63 saves, 1,582 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA. He averaged 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, the second-highest total of any pitcher in major-league history behind only Randy Johnson.

You know when its time, Wood said. Your bodys telling you and obviously the results were telling me. So Ive got no regrets. I played this game as long as I could, as hard as I could.

It made me who I was. If I didnt have those injuries, Im not sure I would be the person I am.

Wood doesnt know what hes going to do next, except spend more time with his family.

After recharging, Wood is open to a role in the front office similar to the one Greg Maddux once took with Hendry, as a special assistant working with the organizations young pitchers.

Is there anyone better to teach them about handling fame and adversity?

Weve gone through a lot, Wood said. I couldnt have asked for anything more. Im not going to look back and say: It could have been, what should have been.

Yes, the flamethrower from Grand Prairie High School has come a long way. He has no plans to leave Chicago.

I love the city (and) the attitude of the people, Wood said. Im a kid from Texas that showed up here at 17 or 18 years old and took a white-knuckle cab ride all the way to the stadium from the airport. I just never thought Id be able to it. The place grows on you.

Wood has earned more than 70 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. He can do whatever he wants with the rest of his life.

Wood never won a World Series ring or the Cy Young awards others may have envisioned when he was the next big thing. But he will walk away with one unforgettable image from Clark and Addison, a place fathers and sons have been coming to for generations.

Its home this is why I came back, Wood said. These fans, this stadium, this atmosphere, day games, everything about it. This place was just beautiful and rocking and thats the way I want to remember Wrigley Field.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.


For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.


Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.


“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.


It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.


“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”


“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”


The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.


The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”


“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”


It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.


The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.


“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”


“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”


Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.


After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.


“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”


Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.


“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”


The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.


The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.


At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.


“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”


And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.


“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”


The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.


“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”


And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.


“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”


“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: