Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood is determined to help Chicago kids understand that violence is not their only option in life. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / January 13, 2012)

On Tuesday, Kerry Wood received the Daily Point of Light Award for his charity work with the Wood Family Foundation. The former Cubs All-Star spoke with RedEye about his work and how baseball gives kids hope.

Describe your efforts with the South Side clinic.

Our baseball clinic was a week long. This year was our second year doing it. Last year, our first year, we went in for a week and we had over 300 kids on the first day. So we were like, "Wow, there's a need here. These kids want to be involved in something." We came back the next day and the next day and the next day, and really noticed the attitudes of all the kids. Even some of the ones in the beginning that wanted absolutely nothing to do with us, by the end of that first week they were helping the other kids. For us as a foundation, I think that's what it's about. It's about getting the peers to want to help each other.

So now one of our goals is to send kids to school. And sure, we could split the money up and we could give a little bit to everybody, but that in my opinion, in our opinion, I don't think that makes as much of a difference. Obviously it's going to build over the years, but our first [scholarship], it's a full ride. Everything's paid for for four years. Go to college. It's the UIC honors college.

This is a kid you're sending to school?

Yeah. Out of one of our neighborhoods. Her name is Gaby Santoyo, and she's there right now. We get her to graduate, she goes back to her neighborhood, mentors, and says, "This is what can happen." Hopefully by the time she's done and graduates, we've already got 10-plus kids in school who are going to go back to their neighborhoods and say, "This can be done."

It's hard for me to sit in downtown Chicago and realize that four blocks from our president's house [in Kenwood], this stuff is going on, and it's just part of [the way of life], I guess. "Oh, it's Chicago." Well it doesn't have to be. This is Chicago. There's absolutely no reason for this to be happening in a major city or in any city, honestly.

What do you see in terms of enthusiasm from kids about baseball? Because you read a lot about how baseball's dying in the inner cities.

I've definitely seen it and I've spoken about it with these kids. The African-American player in baseball is dwindling and dwindling fast. And you see a lot of players coming from the Latin countries—Puerto Rico, Venezuela—and they seem to be escalating, and the African-American player seems to be [declining]. But it has to do with the inner-city neighborhoods. We have 300 kids out, and I bet 100 of them didn't know what that dirt was for. They probably walked through that park 1,000 times and had no idea that was a baseball field. They didn't know which hand to put their glove on. They didn't know which hand they threw with. But by the end of the camp, we played games. And everybody saw kids who didn't know which side to swing from getting base hits.

Do you hear from kids now who are really interested in playing baseball?

Yeah, there are a couple of kids. There is one kid who I think is probably 13 now. This kid's throwing low-80s [mph pitches], I guarantee you. He had natural talent. The ball was cutting, and he was asking the right questions about pitching, "Why does it do this? Why does the ball do that?" So there's interest there, for sure.

But again, baseball is secondary when it comes to those clinics and us getting in those neighborhoods. For the African-American community, it's another thing for kids to look to. It's not the safest all the time for them to go out into their neighborhood, so we have to do a better job of making their neighborhoods safe enough for them to be able to go out and play baseball. These are parks that they've been either told or trained to stay away from at certain parts of the day, and that can't happen in our parks and our recreation areas for our kids. In the grand scheme of things, ultimately it's about our children and getting all of these children—whatever neighborhood they live in—a better chance for success in life.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack.

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