Thank God It's Friday: New Days Dawning for Kerry Wood, Chicago Red Stars

Thank God It's Friday: New Days Dawning for Kerry Wood, Chicago Red Stars
#34 Kerry Wood retired as a Cub after 13+ years in major league baseball.

Wow..."The Windy City" is living up to its hallowed nickname this weekend...lots of hot air and hotter temperatures will heat up the NATO summit, a vicious Cubs-Sox series at Wrigley Field, and the opening of a new women's soccer league in town.

Look what's happened just today:

  • From early morning on, Chicago commuters were warned about the street and rail line disruptions because of the NATO Summit convening in McCormick Place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday 
  • Just past 9 am, Bruce Levine of ESPN and MLB Trade Rumors tweets that future Cubs legend Kerry Wood will be retiring
  • Minutes later, Women's Soccer United tweets an announcement: the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league, the third incarnation of professional women's soccer in the US, posts on its Facebook and Twitter that the league was permanently suspending operations
  • Carrie Muskat of MLB.com tweets that Wood wants to make one last appearance as a professional baseball player, followed by his retirement announcement
  • Tributes start peppering the social media landscape with memories of Kerry Wood and his contributions to the Cubs
  • 10-11 am: WLS Channel 7's Rafer Weigel tweets videos of Kerry Wood taking (possibly) his last workout with the Cubs in preparation for this week's Cubs-Sox "bragging rights" series
  • Later, Weigel tweets pictures of Wood with his son Justin at Wrigley Field  
  • Alyce Lahue of the Chicago Red Stars posts a press release announcing Sunday's opening matchup of the Women's Professional Soccer League (WPSL) Elite vs. FC Indiana at Concordia University in River Forest
  • BP starts for the Cubs-Sox series at Wrigley
  • Game underway at Wrigley
  • Wood takes the mound, throws a K, and hugs his son, who is sitting with him in the dugout

Just one month shy of his 35th birthday, "Woody"  (born June 16, 1977) leaves a controversial legacy in his 13-plus seasons as a major league pitcher.

In his fifth career start, on May 6, 1998, he threw a one-hit, no walk, 20-strikeout shutout against the Houston Astros, tying Roger Clemens' record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game and breaking Bill Gullickson's single-game rookie record of 18 strikeouts in 1980.  (source: Wikipedia)

For that, Wood was named the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgeryto repair damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. 

Wood recorded over 200 strikeouts in four out of his first five seasons, with a high of 266 in 2003. He also set MLB records as the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in appearances): 134 games,  and the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in innings pitched): 853 innings

He was twice named a National League All-Star and pitched in the post-season five times.

However, as great a heater as he threw, Wood's legacy for many is a controversial and bittersweet one. Like Roger Maris, whose 61 home runs had an asterisk til 1991, Wood left many with a sense that he never quite lived up to his potential: No one ever saw Wood pitch a perfect game or a no-hitter, nor did he ever win more than 14 games in a season. And he has no World Series ring.

I believe that people overlook how much he had to overcome serious injury to make his mark.  All but one of his professional years in Major League Baseball was spent throwing on a surgically repaired arm. Many pitchers would barely have tried coming back from Tommy John surgery...or, tried and failed. Same thing as he spent part of several seasons battling  injuries to his back, knees, triceps, and rotator cuff.  

Therefore, let's give him this: Wood leaves his greatest mark in his endurance and ability to reinvent himself year after year. Over the course of his career, he's been a starter, a closer, and a middle-reliever. I think we underestimate the difficulty of the starter's overcoming his ego to become a middle-reliever. Nor his ability to come back from so many devastating injuries. I don't remember the last time Wood was healthy an entire season. And yet, he toughed out the most agonizingt of injuries.

Let's celebrate that. And wish him, his wife--Waukegan, Illinois native Sarah Pates Wood, and their three children well.

Toughing it out in a whole different arena is any type of women's professional soccer league, which has now had three incarnations. And yet, like Wood, have kept coming back in one way, shape or form. Minutes receiving multiple tweets about the end of Wood's career, I received a tweet from Women's Soccer United, with the following announcement:

"The WPS Board of Governors agreed today to suspend all League operations permanently and dissolve the League," according to its Facebook page.

We sincerely regret having to take this course of action,” said T. Fitz Johnson, Atlanta Beat  and Chairman of the Board. The suspension of League operations will be effective immediately as the Board of Governors begins the process of dissolving the League.

Thomas Hofstetter, Chief Executive Officer and President of Sky Blue Women’s Soccer, also chimed in: “We are proud of what WPS has accomplished, having attracted the highest quality players in the world to play in the best women’s league, as well as the progress women’s aoccer has enjoyed over the past three years.”

 For two seaons, Chicago had the Red Stars, who played at Toyota Park and were run by former Chicago Fire executive Peter Wilt. Despite averaging approximately 3,000 per game,  the Red Stars left the WPS and Toyota Park at the end of the second season.  In 2011, they joined the Women's Professional Soccer League (WPSL) and played a few exhibition games at a college stadium. Apparently, the attendance was enough to come back again. Just like the WPSL itself.

This Sunday marks the home opener and season debut for the Chicago Red Stars in this year’s new WPSL Elite League. They will kickoff at 3pm CT at Concordia University in River Forest, IL, against FC Indiana.

  The Red Stars are joined in WPSL Elite by two other former WPS teams, Boston Breakers and WNY Flash. Other teams in the league include former WPSL teams that made the jump upward into the Elite League. While many WPS players elected to seek opportunities playing overseas, others chose to remain closer to home including former USWNT captain and gold-medalist Lori Chalupny, a St. Louis native.  

“It is a great opportunity to improve as a player and continue to grow women’s soccer in the United States,” she remarked.

 The Red Stars also include  Chicagoland natives Jen Buczkowski and Julianne Sitch, who will look to feature prominently in the Red Stars opening day roster.  Another fan favorite, Champaign native Ella Masar, is still under contract with French side Paris Saint-Germain. 

Their two opening contests are against one of the more interesting teams in the league.  FC Indiana’s Head Coach, Shek Borkowski, recently became Women’s Technical Director of the Haitian women’s national team and their roster heavily features players from that delegation. FC Indiana opened their season against a strong WNY Flash side last week, falling 4-1. They take on the Boston Breakers this evening, before heading for the Chicago clash Sunday.  With FC Indiana having two games under their belt by Sunday’s opener, the Red Stars side will rely heavily on their veteran players to be ready for a strong start.

 Tickets are on sale now at chicagoredstars.com and will also be available for purchase at the gate the day of the match. Group ticket inquiries may email info@chicagoredstars.com.

 The 8-team league is ASA Chesapeake Charge, Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Indiana, New England Mutiny, New York Fury, Philadelphia Fever, and WNY Flash.

Let's remember both Wood and women's professional soccer as the little engines that could. And celebrate victories that defy oridnary perserverance and strength of character.

 

 

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