Part of my job, say, in 2004-06 was to chronicle the ongoing comebacks of Cubs pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. World Series hopes, continually dashed, had rested on their formerly lightning-distributing right arms.
Both Wood and Prior came back, all right, though not in the form the Cubs envisioned. Through more surgeries and innumerable towel drills, Wood got lean and mean through workouts and organic foods, transforming himself into a good late-inning reliever starting out his 30s. Prior kept attempting comebacks for a half-decade after he threw his final pitch as a Cub in 2006. None of his comebacks got him back to the big leagues, so at a young age, Prior became a minor-league pitching coach. He’s now bullpen coach for the Dodgers.
Almost any major sports figure has some kind of comeback story, on or off the field/court/ice. I’ve gathered up some good ones in, what else?, a new book, “Champions.” And for the first time since my inaugural book, “I Remember Harry Caray” in 1998, they’re throwing a party to launch the project.
If you can’t get out to spring training on Feb. 22, you have an alternative. At 7 p.m. on that day, you can meet living examples of comeback stories from near and far in sports at Osteria Via Stato, 625. N. State St., just off Ontario Steet, in Chicago’s River North restaurant belt. Signed copies from yours truly and all the profilees will be available along with drinks and some good food. Tickets are $79 with VIP admission at $179, available at www.signaturestrength.org/events.
Cubs voice Pat Hughes, the longest-serving radio play-by-play voice in Cubs history, will emcee the event. Two Hall of Famers are headliners — the Cubs’ Fergie Jenkins and the ageless Marv Levy, only NFL coach to take his team to four straight Super Bowls. All-time Chicago Bull Bob Love will be in the house.
Lending some glamour to the party will be Victoria Arlen, the youngest talent ever hired by ESPN. Arlen is a former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant and model, and a gold medalist in ParaOlympics swimming competition.
A 2008 U.S. Olympic volleyball gold medalist, Scott Touzinsky, and former Chicago Sky player Imani-McGee Stafford will be on hand to describe what it’s like to go to work via the vertical leap. Former New York Mets catchers Barry Lyons and Ed Hearn likely will be asked by me to pay their team’s long-standing debt to the Cubs and Jenkins from 1969.
And if you have aches and pains, comeback-facilitator Dr. Richard Lehman, a top sports orthopedist, will be on hand to dispense his wisdom.
After Hughes, all of the above are profiled in “Comebacks,” my 15th book. The Cubs have a big representation with Prior, Kyle Schwarber and former North Siders Rich Hill, Chris Krug, Tom Gamboa and Casey McGehee. Still more comeback stories are told in the book through the experiences of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, a former star Dallas Cowboys linebacker, and Moran Samuel, a female Israeli basketball player-turned-disabled medalist rower.
Common theme for all was not giving up. Schwarber was the classic case. Severe knee injuries in the third game of the 2016 season seemed to shelve the then-husky slugger until 2017. But with vastly improved workout facilities in the new Cubs clubhouse, the support of his teammates and their admonition there’s no crying in baseball, Schwarber rehabbed well enough to serve as DH in the Cleveland games of the Cubs’ World Series triumph. In a true Fall Classic that came down to the final out, Schwarber’s bat made a big difference.
Kudos go to Dr. David Fletcher, president of the Chicago Baseball Museum, for running interference to chat with Schwarber in Urbana, Ill. early in 2017 for that chapter.
Krug is an uncredited comebacker, from way back. The journeyman catcher ran afoul of new manager Leo Durocher in 1966 when The Lip thought Krug was fraternizing with the then-wife of Bill Wrigley, son of the Cubs owner. Krug was banished from the organization. But two decades later, he built the famed Field of Dreams in Iowa while hobnobbing with Kevin Costner on the movie set. Durocher was in tortured retirement in Palm Springs at the time.
The night also will be a chance to preview an upcoming book I’m doing with Jenkins on the 1969 Cubs on their 50th anniversary. Everyone knows the alternately uplifting, then depressing narrative of that landmark, franchise-altering season. The challenge for Fergie and me is to tell “why” and explain how the modern Cubs were born out of that feast-and-famine journey.
So don’t sit at home as the winter doldrums prevail. Drop by and get some stimulation if you need to craft your own comeback effort. Hopefully, we’ll see you at Osteria Via Stato.
- Marv Levy – National Football League Hall of Fame coach
- Bob Love – Former all-time leading Chicago Bulls player; current Bulls Director of Community Affairs
- Fergie Jenkins – National Baseball Hall of Famer
- Victoria Arlen – ESPN on-air personality; model; gold and silver medalist; former “Dancing with the Stars” competitor
- Scott Touzinsky – 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist (volleyball)
- Barry Lyons – 1986 World Series Champion
- Ed Hearn – 1986 World Series Champion
- Chris Krug – Built the iconic Field of Dreams
- Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson – Super Bowl XII champion; Pro Bowl player with the Dallas Cowboys
- Imani McGee-Stafford – Olympic gold medalist in women’s basketball
- Kyle Schwarber – Member of the 2016 World Series Champions Chicago Cubs team
- Tom Gamboa – Professional baseball coach including Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic
- Rich Hill – Pitched in the 2017 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers
- Moran Samuel – Won several Olympic medals for rowing representing Israel
- Casey McGehee – National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2014
- Mark Prior – 2003 Baseball All-Star
- Dr. Richard Lehman – Medical Director of the U.S Center for Sports Medicine
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