It seems more and more these days one can turn to the sports section of the newspaper on any given morning, or tune in to SportsCenter at any time and be assaulted by stories highlighting professional athletes, baseball players in particular, engaging in behaviors that are not only egregious and loathsome but unfortunate fodder for self righteous pundits and cynics alike—angry critics who claim that sports and their lionized idols are nothing more than a blight on our culture and embody an egocentric, selfish entitlement that threatens to fray the very fabric of all that we as an enlightened society hold in such high regard.
I suppose on most days it is difficult to refute their assertions.
There's a lot to be concerned with. Roger Clemens is still embroiled in the shameless defense of his alleged steroid use and subsequent perjury charge. Brett Lawrie is throwing helmets at umpires, Ozzie Guillen continues his pugilistic attack on the media, addressing reporters with a maelstrom of expletives, and the controversial Ryan Braun suspension appeal has everyone scratching their heads and wondering what the heck is going on here.
Then Friday night, Kerry Wood trotted out to the mound at Wrigley Field, the same mound where 14 years earlier he struck out 20 Houston Astros in just his fifth major league start, and logic, order and humanity was restored.
Thank you Kerry Wood.
No, it wasn’t the poetic justice of the strikeout artist Wood, who has been clocked at 100 MPH in his career on several occasions, fanning the one and only batter he would face on a vintage Kerry Wood breaking ball. It wasn’t the impromptu gathering on the mound by his teammates after the swing and a miss or the stirring ovation from the raucous crowd as manager Dale Sveum motioned to the bullpen, signifying that Wood’s work for the night had been completed. No. All of that played out perfectly, like a well crafted script, but the best was yet to come.
What made everything in the world of baseball okay again, even if it is just a transitory respite, was the poignant moment that came seconds after Wood tipped his hat to the crowd and walked off that hallowed mound for the last time.
As Wood approached the Cubs dugout, walking deliberately through a deluge of cheers raining down all around him, his young son Justin ran onto the field and leaped into his arms. What ensued was heartfelt embrace that engendered chills up every spine and brought tears to even the most stoic observers’ eyes.
It is moments like these that remind us why we love sports, baseball in particular.
Baseball is the ultimate metaphor for life. All of us struggle with the fair and foul, and more often than not, the difference between the two is as negligible and capricious as a prodigious fly that hooks to one side of the foul pole in favor of the other.
Reaching base safely, one step at a time, beckons to all who have devoted their lives to the gradual attainment of a lofty goal.
And which one of us has not, at one moment in time, thwarted the curveballs and bad bounces that were thrown our way and experienced the exhilaration of that one perfect moment in our lives—when the confluence of forces that usually conspire against us abate and we can “touch ‘em all” as everyone else watches us in our moment of unadulterated splendor.
It is this human pageantry, the kind that unfolded at Wrigley Field on Friday night, that calls to us. It speaks to us on such a tender, sentimental level that it is hard to deny its veracity. It is human drama at its very best.
Thank you, Kerry Wood, for reminding folks that professional athletes are more like us than not—and for restoring our faith that many of these professional athletes, although privileged in ways we can only imagine, are still grounded by things to which we can all relate.