Flashbacks of Little League
When I was a young boy, June meant one thing and one thing only: baseball. Little League baseball seemed to consume the entire month through practices, games or playing catch in the backyard.
I thought about those Little League days recently when one of my favorite players retired from the majors. Kerry Wood, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, was having a rough 2012 season. He spent part of the year on the disabled list and when he did pitch he threw the ball all over the park, compiling an earned run average over 8. Wood could see his time on the mound had come to an end, and announced in Mid-May that he would retire after his next appearance.
Wood was called in to pitch against the Chicago White Sox on May 18. He faced one batter, Dayan Viciedo, whom he struck out on three pitches. He was removed from the game to a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field faithful. I had the pleasure of watching the game live over my lunch break. Like all Cub fans, I was frustrated with the way Wood had been pitching until that point, but when he finally retired it was sad to see him go.
The 34-year-old veteran pitched almost his entire 14-year career on the north side. Wood was an All-Star in 2003 and 2008, but his most memorable year was 1998 when he won the Rookie of the Year award. That year was highlighted by Wood’s 20-strikeout game against the Houston Astros on May 6, in just his fifth career start.
I remember that day well. I was in sixth grade and Little League baseball practice had just begun. I walked home from school that afternoon to change into my baseball pants and cleats before riding my bike to the ball diamond. While I was changing, I turned the TV on to catch the end of the Cubs’ game. I tuned in just in time to see Wood fan Derek Bell for the final out of his record-tying performance. I didn’t have time to celebrate because by then I was already running late for practice, and I didn’t want to have to run laps around the field.
My own pitching career was rather limited. My dad ran a computer store (which he still runs) that sponsored one of the teams, which I happened to play for. I pitched a fair amount on that team, but by the time I got to sixth grade I was playing mostly second base. I only had one start that year and I remember it well, because it was out of town and my dad came to watch me.
One of the things that annoyed me as a position player was how many walks our pitchers issued. It was hard to stay alert when the ball was so rarely put in play. When I got my chance to pitch, I made sure the defense didn’t fall asleep. I was not a hard-thrower but I was pretty accurate so the opposing batters got a lot of strikes. And they hit them. Hard. I don’t know how many runs I gave up because I didn’t care since my goal was not to walk anyone, which I accomplished. That was one of the few times I felt good after a loss.