Rozner: Cubs celebration helps Kerry Wood bury the past
The celebration was befitting a team that had just won the World Series, century of drought or not.
You see, players gather for spring training around Valentine's Day, and when the last team standing ends the journey nine months later, their love for winning pours out like so much cheap champagne.
It's a release of many emotions.
So the party inside the visitors clubhouse Thursday morning at Progressive Field in Cleveland was as you would suspect, rowdy and rough as much as soaking wet.
With a couple dozen players and execs crammed into a small area, not to mention hundreds of reporters, the mob scene was not for the faint of heart.
In a small hallway leading down to the field, about 20 feet from the frenzy, Kerry Wood leaned on a refrigerator and quietly sipped a beverage. He smiled a lot and nearly every time a player passed by, an embrace ensued.
Sometimes players would stop to talk. Sometimes they poured assorted liquids on his head. Sometimes they tried to get him to join the fray.
But Wood was content where he was, watching in amazement and committing it to memory.
Make no mistake, however. Kerry Wood was overjoyed.
"It means more to me and so many ex-players than I think these guys will ever know," Wood said, getting emotional and wiping a tear. "I left and didn't want to leave.
"I played here in Cleveland, that was a great opportunity, and the Yankees experience was great for me.
"But from the time I left to the time I came back, I was worried. I kept thinking, 'This is the year they're gonna win it.' I was afraid I wouldn't be here when it happened and I wanted to be a part of it so badly.
"I'm just so glad I was here for it."
Wood -- now a special assistant to team president Theo Epstein -- doesn't expect the current group of players, especially the young guys, to have an understanding of what former Cubs went through, especially in years like '69, '84 or '03.
But he's grateful that this team has eased his pain and removed forever all stains on Cubs lore.
"It gets rid of everything. Now, we're just part of the story of the Cubs," Wood said. "We're done with the curses and all that other (stuff) we had to listen to for years. It's over. Done. So glad about that."
The surprise at first was that Wood was so emotional, so thankful that never again does he have to hear about the foolish narratives that have enveloped the roster and haunted players from teams like the 2003 Cubs.
Then again, Wood has always been an emotional player, unafraid to share his feelings about a franchise that drafted a high school kid from Texas, brought him to the big leagues and helped him make Chicago his home.
And it was Wood who fell on his sword after Game 7 of the NLCS in 2003, telling everyone he "choked," when in reality everyone knew he was toast. Dusty Baker had abused the rotation and their arms were finished.
Wood didn't choke, but as the leader of the team he admirably took the blame.
"In the heat of the moment, the game was over and honestly that's how I felt," Wood said. "I felt like we had an opportunity and we didn't get it done. I said what I said. That's the way I felt. I wasn't trying to protect anyone.
"We've all carried that burden. We've all kind of worn it, and now it's wiped away forever. It's awesome for the organization and the city and the fans. These fans … what they've been through …"
Wood paused for a moment, smiled and shook his head. He pointed into the room where players were still jumping on one another.
"There are so many players from the past who aren't here who are feeling this win like it's their win, like they never have to answer those questions anymore," Wood said. "My time has come and gone. This is for those players in there, but they've done a great thing for a lot of us.
"Maybe they'll never know it, but they really have."
At that moment, fellow 34 Jon Lester came by, gave Wood a big hug and dumped a bottle of champagne on his head.
It washed away more than Lester will ever know.
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