CHICAGO -- More than 400 students at Nash Elementary School went home Friday with new coats, gloves and a toy, thanks to former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.
Wood, 35, and his wife Sarah made the presentation, part of the Wood Family Foundation's "Warm Wishes" program. The Woods and the foundation's volunteers and staff decorated the school's auditorium with brightly lit Christmas trees, candy canes and inflatable snowmen, and even borrowed Santa Claus for the day. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn joined in the event, helping to pass out gifts to fifth graders.
Nash principal Dr. Tresa Dunbar called each student by name, and each walked onto the stage for a bag of presents. Dunbar didn't make it easy on some of the kids, teasing that a few had just come from detention and belonged on the naughty list. One boy named Dominic deserved a "box of rocks," Dunbar joked. But all were well behaved, many hugged the Woods, and one student sang for them.
"The reason we chose Nash Elementary is because of Dr. Dunbar and what she's done for the kids and how the kids have responded to her," Wood said. "It's a special place and we're doing our little part."
The coats were new and hand-picked, not hand-me-downs. Dunbar credited the Woods for making the extra effort to personalize the gift bags.
"They were interested," she said. "Sarah and Kerry have made a genuine commitment to Nash."
Dunbar admitted she doesn't follow baseball and wasn't aware of Wood's exploits on the mound, which began in 1998 with the Cubs and included a record-setting 20-strikeout game. He walked away from the game on May 18 this year at Wrigley Field, striking out one more batter and then retiring. Wood finished his 14-year career with 1,582 strikeouts, but his efforts Friday had much more impact on the 400-plus students at Nash.
"I know them as people," Dunbar said of the Woods. "I don't know him as a baseball player. He'll be remembered always by these kids. He's a great ambassador for the Chicago Cubs -- he's a great ambassador, period."
This was the second "Warm Wishes" program the Woods have done, and a prelude to "Woody's Winter Warm-Up" on Jan. 18 at Navy Pier prior to the Cubs Convention. Wood may not have to prep for baseball, but he's busy with the foundation's efforts.
"They're leaving a legacy of service for their children," Dunbar said, "and they certainly have touched our lives here."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.