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Wood always a fan favorite at Wrigley

Wood always a fan favorite at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- Mike Bottcher remembers watching Cubs games on TV with his grandmother when Kerry Wood first debuted with the team in 1998.

"He's so good, he's so good," Bottcher recalls his grandmother saying about the right-hander.

Bottcher, from Marengo, Ill., eventually became a big fan of Wood's and was one of 34,937 fans on hand Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field for Wood's final Major League appearance.

Wood's Major League career came to a close with a strikeout of White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo, a fitting ending for a pitcher whose career was highlighted by the K. The Cubs right-hander entered Friday's eighth inning and started off Viciedo with a 96-mph fastball before striking him out two pitches later with a curveball in the dirt to complete his 14-year career.

Wood, 34, exited to a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field crowd, which chanted "Kerry, Kerry" as Wood tipped his cap on his way to the dugout.

After hugging teammates, Wood returned for a curtain call and doffed his cap once more to a crowd that had watched him grow from a flame-throwing 21-year-old to a veteran who decided to call it quits after struggling during the season's early going.

Bottcher attended Friday's game with his father, John, who had been fan of Wood's since the right-hander was a 21-year-old phenom. John Bottcher heard the news Friday morning about Wood potentially making his last appearance and had mixed emotions.

"At first I was skeptical. I couldn't believe it," John Bottcher said, wearing a Wood jersey. "Then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I know he'd like to retire as a Cub, and I'm sure it's probably best for him and his family."

Kris Hewitt, a Wauconda, Ill., resident, said Wood's 20-strikeout performance on May 6, 1998 -- in which Wood held the Astros to only one hit -- ranks among his favorite memories of the right-hander's career.

"You've heard [WGN Radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes] talk about it," Hewitt said. "That was a better-pitched game than some no-hitters or perfect games. He was electric."

Unlike others, Cubs fan David Biggs hadn't heard the news that Wood's final appearance was looming. He was surprised and said he had many great memories of the righty.

"The 20-strikeout game, the sick curveball," said Biggs, a Marango, Ill., resident wearing an away Wood jersey. "The guy was just incredible. That's all you can say."

He also was a player both teammates and fans admired.

"Just the way he steps on the mound, he's definitely a Cubs leader," Mike Bottcher said. "He's a role model, and through all the aches and pains, he still came out there."

It wasn't just what Wood did on the field that endeared him to Cubs fans like Hewitt. It also was what he did away from the park and how he handled himself. After battling arm injuries, Wood moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2008. In 2011, after his stint in Cleveland and New York, he returned to Chicago and gave the Cubs a hometown discount.

"He's been good for baseball, good for the Cubs and good for Chicago," Hewitt said. "He's just a good guy."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth.
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