Teammates have special appreciation for Kid K

Teammates have special appreciation for Kid K

CHICAGO -- James Russell grew up in Texas, so the Cubs left-hander knows all about its rich history of producing big, strong pitchers.

He also knows the state's two favorite sons.

"Growing up in Texas, that's all you hear about is Nolan Ryan and Kerry Wood," Russell said. "Always. That's who you grew up watching, who you wanted to be like and that's who all the kids playing wiffle ball would act like."

Wood's legacy will live on, but the Irving, Texas, native's career is over.

The Cubs right-hander appeared in his final Major League game Friday, entering in the eighth inning and striking out White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo with a curveball in the dirt to cap his 14-year career.

Kerry Wood
Kerry Wood calls it a career

Wood walked off Wrigley Field for the final time as the crowd of 34,937 chanted his name and gave him a standing ovation in the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the White Sox.

Friday marked the end of an era in Cubs baseball, which began when the club selected Wood out of Grand Prairie High School with the fourth overall pick in the 1995 First-Year Player Draft. Three years later, he exploded onto the scene as a 21-year-old phenom, striking out 20 Astros on May 6, 1998, and Wood was synonymous with the Cubs for most of his 14-year career. Twelve of Wood's 14 seasons were spent in Chicago, along with stops in Cleveland (2009-10) and New York (2010).

After Thursday's game against the Phillies, Wood spoke with manager Dale Sveum about his desire to retire after pitching one more game. Sveum said Wood previously brought up retirement a couple weeks earlier, but he felt Friday that it was time.

"Yesterday I knew it was a lot different than the first day he talked to me about it," Sveum said. "It's just that time. We all come to it."

Wood finished his career with an 86-75 record, 3.61 ERA and 1,582 strikeouts in 446 games.

"He had an awesome career, he's done so much in baseball," Cubs outfielder David DeJesus said. "It's unfortunate that we came out with the loss, but it was awesome to see him go out there and strike a guy out and get a big [ovation], because he deserves it."

Although Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija didn't grow up in Texas like Russell, he's proof of Wood's popularity during his height with the team. Born in Merrillville, Ind., Samardzija recalled a time his father read a story about how Wood worked out in the pool, which, of course, helped explain his 98-mph heater.

The next day, Samardzija was in the pool kicking around floaties.

"For a kid growing up in the Midwest, that's what Kerry was to us kids when we were coming up," Samardzija said. "That's the dude you wanted to be, that's how you wanted to throw -- you wanted to throw hard, you wanted to throw a big curveball."

When Wood returned to the Cubs prior to the 2011 season after giving the club a hometown discount, he became a mentor to young pitchers like Russell, Samardzija and others. That is among many of the reasons he'll be missed.

"It's a tough day, man. It's not a good day when Kerry Wood retires," Samardzija said "We'll remember all the things that he did great and all the great things he did for this city."

While Samardzija spent Friday afternoon on the mound as the Cubs' starting pitcher, Russell was in the bullpen with Wood. Russell was warming up alongside Wood during the eighth inning and replaced him after the right-hander struck out Viciedo. Russell and Wood also were close away from the ballpark, going fishing and hanging out off the field.

Russell -- who admitted he got a bit choked up when Wood's son, Justin, met his father on the field after Wood was removed -- said those are memories he'll carry forever.

"It's tough to see a guy go like that, and I fought like hell to try to make him stay," Russell said. "He's had a great career and he's got nothing but the utmost respect from all of us."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.