The torch is passed from one Texas fireballer to another.
Kerry Wood grew up keenly following Nolan Ryan's late-career feats, including attending his seventh and final no-hitter at Arlington Stadium in 1991. In turn, Andrew Cashner hung on a lot of Wood's 99 mph fastballs and sharp curves as Kid K moved from 20-year-old wunderkind to wizened, rehabbed mature pitcher who ran the gauntlet of crippling injuries.
Cashner will get a better deal than Wood. He'll now be able to pick his brain and watch his routine as a Cubs teammate now that Wood has made his hoped-for final return to Wrigley Field. Wood only had one bullpen session with Ryan at Minute Maid Park in 2001, but the pair were definitely from different baseball generations.
"I'm really excited to get a chance to work with him," Cashner said from his Texas home Friday a few hours before Wood's welcome-home press conference at Clark and Addison.
"I watched him my whole life. I’m sure going to talk to him about how he goes about trying to prepare for a game, how to attack hitters, that will help me. Definitely control is one thing, I had too many walks, I need to improve that. I'll talk to him, to see what he does."
Wood and Cashner can relate on a number of levels. Cashner's good mechanics separate the early careers of both. He had a smoother delivery starting out than Wood, who threw across his body and did not use his legs enough. They have one important thing in common -- high heat. Both Wood and Cashner at their best tickled 100 mph on the radar gun.
"I like 100," Wood said.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry knows the pair will click as teammates. Wood has only met Cashner a couple of times, including last Friday at Ryan Dempster's benefit for his family foundation at D'Agostino's Restaurant near Wrigley Field.
"I can't think of a better mentor for a young hard thrower from Texas than an older hard thrower from Texas," said Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Said Wood: "I’m sure that’s something (leadership) that’s going to take place naturally. I’m not going to try to go in there and start coaching people, for sure. Obviously, he’s (Cashner’s) going to have questions and there’s going to be a lot of guys having questions. I’ll have questions for them…I’m here to help in any manner I can, whether it’s talking to guys, helping with them, doing anything."
Wood took pity on Dempster last August after Ted Lilly departed in a salary dump. All the team leadership pressure would fall on the Canadian. Not anymore. Dempster mused Friday that Wood can have all the leadership burdens he wants now. Actually, their teammates will look to both consummate professionals now.
"Leadership is what we need, hopefully he and Demp will carry us," Cashner said. "We had a lot of young guys last year, we need someone to look up to."
Even at the trimmest weight of his big-league career, Wood has the broad shoulders and the stature to pull off his first-among-equals role as a Cub.