Psalm 49:12, 15 (NIV)“One of those things you know it’s the most difficult thing you ever have to deal with. Everybody has to do it.”
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish. …
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
“We don’t all get to choose when; we don’t all get to have a say in it.”
“Every ending is just a new beginning.”
Heavy stuff, yes. But we’re just talking about baseball. Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood retired today. He was called in to a close game against the White Sox and struck out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches. It was a sunny day at Wrigley Field — the way baseball was meant to be played, in one of its last great cathedrals. Tens of thousands stood and cheered as perhaps millions more followed along, watching on TV, listening to the radio or just tracking along on the Internet — something you could scarcely do when Wood broke into the bigs in 1998. Heck, Viciedo, his 1,581st strikeout victim, was barely nine years old when Wood pitched arguably the greatest single game of all time in May of that year, striking out 20 Houston Astros and giving up one fluke hit.
As much as I love the Cubs, I know this is just a baseball story. A fairly tragic one at that, given how Wood’s seemingly impossible history of arm injuries repeatedly derailed what once was among the most promising young careers. But as he’s only two years older than me, I’m very much able to consider Kerry Wood as a person — a husband, a father — instead of just another famous athlete. Sure, we inhabit slightly different tax brackets. But he’s also a dad with three children, just like me.
So as I watched (and re-watched) the video of Kerry Wood’s last stand today, I did not focus on the adoring crowd or the too-good-to-be-true theatrics of his last appearance or his place in the annals of Cubs lore. Instead, I got choked up as I watched Wood’s six-year-old son Justin come out of the dugout to hug his dad. Just like in “Field of Dreams” when Moonlight Graham stepped off the magical diamond to rescue young Karin — forever ending his dream to play ball — when Wood walked off the mound today, he left his baseball legacy behind.
|Kerry Wood hugs his son Justin after his final appearance. Before the game Wood announced he would retire after this game. — Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2012|
As he embraced Justin, he embraced fully his role as a father. Sure, he’s made millions of dollars. As a professional athlete he’s surely been away from home for a great deal of his young family’s life. A personal services contract with the team means he won’t be living the average life of the white collar world. But that doesn’t rob the moment of its symbolism. Kerry Wood the baseball player, the hero to many, who always knew his fame and body would not endure, can now move on to a job he’ll have the rest of his life.
When Cubs manager Dale Sveum said retirement is “the most difficult thing you ever have to deal with,” he certainly meant it in the context of baseball. Wood’s comments today and throughout his career reflect his knowledge and perspective that throwing a ball the way most of us could only dream to do was just his job, not his life. He knows he’s been luckier than most, and he knows the fact he could right his own exit story makes him especially fortunate.
And his wife’s words, that “every ending is just a new beginning,” to me speak of a woman who is ready for her husband to be home for good, to fully commit to being a husband and father, not just a provider. We should all be so lucky, to have generational wealth at such a young age, the power to call our own shots and the prospect of decades to spend focusing primarily on the ones we love.
But all of us, no matter how famous or nondescript, no matter how wealthy or impoverished, will not physically endure. Our true wealth is in the knowledge that God will redeem us from the realm of the dead and bring us to him. That is the lesson I want to teach my sons. They don’t care much for baseball now and I’m not sure they ever will. What I do hope they care about is growing up to be the kind of men who can get lost in an embrace with a child no matter the size of the roaring crowd. The game ended, the crowd dispersed, the jersey came off, the locker will be emptied. But just like me, Kerry Wood will be a father forever.
A prayer for May 18:
Lord, I thank you for the promise of a new beginning in you, that we can move beyond this Earth into a spiritual connection with our creator and redeemer. That although we all fall short of perfection, that we all will pass from this life, there is the promise of life everlasting, fully in your presence, made perfect through your grace alone. I thank you for the chance to witness a tender moment between father and son, and ask that you keep it firmly planted in my mind that I might remember to so treasure my own children in all circumstances. Amen.