On May 6, 1998, Kerry Wood was just a 20-year-old from Texas, a young kid with a cannon for an arm trying to find his way around Major League mounds.
Then the "unexpected" happened. In just his fifth MLB start, Wood struck out 20 Astros and allowed just one hit and no walks in one of the most dominant pitching outings the game has seen -- and his life changed faster than one of his 100-mph heaters.
How dizzying was the postgame spotlight? Oh, sure, Wood took calls from David Letterman and Jay Leno (twice!) -- "that's kind of intimidating as a 20-year-old" -- but there was one conversation from a certain Chicago legend for which Wood would like a mulligan.
His Airness? For Wood, it was more like His Errorness.
"Actually, I got a call from Michael Jordan asking me to come down and go to one of their playoff games -- come down into the locker room and be a part of that for their run that year," Wood said during Saturday's Cubs broadcast as the club celebrated the 25th anniversary of his 20-K game. "It's regrettably one of the worst decisions I ever made because I was so exhausted. ... I said no. I'm beat. I did three hours of media after the game. My head was spinning. I couldn't even go get a drink. I went to Bennigan's and got a guiltless chicken platter and a root beer at the bar and I'm like, 'I'm exhausted.'
"I'm not proud of that, but I did not take Mr. Jordan up on his invitation, unfortunately."
That was the "Last Dance" for the Jordan-era Bulls, but it was just the start for Wood, who won National League Rookie of the Year in '98 and ended up pitching 12 of his 14 seasons in Chicago, garnering two All-Star selections in the process.
"May 6 was just so unexpected," Wood said. "I was still trying to get my feet wet. I wasn't even sure if I belonged here yet. I didn't throw any strikes in the bullpen warming up. I think it was my second start at home. Your head is still spinning. You're that new in the league and you're trying to figure out if you belong."
No offense to Jordan, but nothing validated Wood's sense of belonging that day like a call from Roger Clemens, one of his boyhood idols.
"Roger called. It was after Leno and Letterman," Wood said, ever so humbly. "I was new. I didn't even know the clubhouse phone number. Someone keeps coming in and saying, 'You got a phone call in the training room.' I don't know anyone that knows the number. I don't even know the number. ... I pick up the phone and I'm like, 'Hello?' 'Hey, Kerry. It's Rocket.' I'm 2 1/2 hours into media interviews and answering all kinds of stuff and my brain is not working. So I'm like, 'What? Who?' He's like, 'Rocket.' And still, blanks. I got nothing. ... 'Roger Clemens.' I was like, 'Oh, hey Rocket!'
"He was calling to welcome me to the 20-strikeout club, which ... he and Nolan Ryan were my two childhood heroes and people I looked up to and tried to emulate. So he was by far the most special call of the day."