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Wood, Prior prepare for '04 season


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Wood, Prior prepare for '04 season

Fans hope to see duo toil in Windy City for years

By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com


CHICAGO -- They are the Chicago Cubs' dynamic duo, the team's 1-2 punch, and they share more than the same glove size and childhood heroes.

Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are the Cubs' pair of aces and the two pitchers are gearing up for the 2004 season.


Both have started throwing. Both are doing their cardio work, although Wood's sessions include riding around the Phoenix area on a mountain bike. When pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 17, both expect to be ready.


Cubs fans hope the two will be together for a long time. Wood took a first step toward that when he signed a one-year, $9.75 million contract Jan. 16. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Wood both said they want to finalize a multi-year deal before Spring Training begins.


It was good to see Wood smiling during the Cubs Convention. The last image of the right-hander from the 2003 season was after the team lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to the Florida Marlins. Wood was upset at his performance in the game, and blamed himself, saying he "choked." And now?


"Once I got home I was fine," Wood said. "I'm never going to forget it. But I'm not going to dwell on it. That's part of the game. I didn't succeed that day, but I moved on. I don't regret saying [i choked]. I was surrounded at my locker 20 minutes after we'd just gotten kicked out of the playoffs, and that's the way I felt at the time."


Does he still feel that way?


"To a certain degree," Wood said. "I didn't do my job that day. If you want to call it choking or just not doing your job. ... But I realize we brought a lot of special memories and a lot of special moments to a lot of people."


One moment he and Prior shared was Game 5 of the NL Division Series. The deciding game was played in Atlanta, and Wood was starting. But he was missing something.


"I remembered my belt and my hat -- I just forgot my glove," Wood said.


He ended up borrowing Prior's, saying he wanted "one with a lot of strikes in it." The Cubs won the game, 5-1, and took the five-game series against the Braves.


"I felt a part of that game because my glove was in use," Prior said.


During a question and answer session at the convention, Wood and Prior were asked about whether they collect any souvenirs. Both admitted to saving jerseys and balls but Wood said his prize possession is a baseball autographed by rocker Ozzy Osborne who sang during the seventh inning stretch last summer at Wrigley Field.


"It looks like he signed it with his feet," Wood said.


"The best thing for me is I got my glove back from Game 5," Prior said.


Wood was asked about his tendency to throw inside. He led the league in 2003, hitting 21 batters, the most by a pitcher since 1969.


"I don't really care," Wood said. "You're going to hit guys."


Not Prior.


"Any time I've ever tried to hit somebody ... I've missed," Prior said.


The crowd seemed to disagree and yelled out Barry Bonds' name, recalling the May 1 game when Prior plunked the San Francisco slugger. But Prior said he wasn't aiming despite what the Giants outfielder might think. The plan was to throw hard in and soft away, and one pitch just got away.


"You say, 'Don't hit him' and your mind doesn't register the 'don't' part sometimes," Prior said.


Both pitchers denied that the Cubs are cursed. The players even joked about bringing a goat into the dugout during the playoffs to end the local legend.


"I don't think any one goat has that power," Wood said.


And both agreed that Cubs manager Dusty Baker is a key reason the team won its first National League Central Division title.


"I don't know if you can describe what it's like to play for Dusty," Wood said. "All I know is I will play until my arm falls off for that man."


Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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