Wolf still has loyal fans in Philly

Wolf Pack will be howling in Game 4 of the NLCS, but not for the former Phillie

Originally Published: October 18, 2009
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- When Randy Wolf takes the mound Monday night against his old team, there will be six Phillies fans, somewhere in the stands, quietly watching with admiration.

Patrick Wood, a lifelong, die-hard Phillies fan, will be one of the six family members at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Wood, 38, will be rooting for his team, but that doesn't mean he won't have mixed emotions when he watches the Phillies try to build on their 2-1 series lead against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

That's because Wolf isn't just another hated opposing pitcher. He is much more than that to the Wood family.

"In the regular season I don't mind if both pitchers throw eight shutout innings and we win it in the bottom of the ninth," Patrick Wood says from his Philadelphia home Sunday night. "In the playoffs, if they put a 3-spot on [Wolf] and he goes five innings, I won't cry. But I don't want to see him get shelled."

Many fans wouldn't understand Patrick Wood's loyalty to a former Phillie. But most also wouldn't understand how Randy Wolf was there for the Wood family -- the originators of the Wolf Pack fan section at the old Veterans Stadium -- in its worst moment, when the baby of the family, Tom, was killed in a car crash.

When Wolf surprised the family by attending Tom's funeral, a bond between the Wolf Pack brothers and Randy would remain.


It was 1999 and Wolf, who had been taken in the second round of the 1997 draft by Philadelphia, was a rookie pitcher. At one of his first starts, some of the Wood brothers took out a white cloth and decided to make a sign, buy some wolf masks and create a fan club. They called themselves the Wolf Pack.

"The Phillies stunk in '99; they were terrible," Patrick Wood says. "We just decided we're gonna support this guy. My brothers picked up some masks made a banner that said wolf pack on it. We danced around, had fun and enjoyed it."

The brothers, seven of them, and a few cousins made it a ritual: every home game when Randy pitched they'd crowd the empty 700 level at the Vet and don the wolf masks. It did not go unnoticed by the 22-year-old lefty.

[+] EnlargeRandy Wolf
AP Photo/Tom MihalekOn May 13, in his only start at Citizens Bank Ballpark this season, Randy Wolf tossed six innings of three-hit ball to earn the win.
Soon thereafter, a meeting was arranged between Randy and the Wolf Pack. Patrick Wood was impressed with how nice and normal Wolf seemed; he even thought Randy looked like he could have been a member of their family. A mutual respect was born, and for three years Patrick and his brothers and cousins attended every single home start Wolf made.

They once made an appearance when Wolf didn't start. It was right before the 1999 All-Star break and then-manager Terry Francona asked Wolf to go to the bullpen. Some of the brothers were home watching the game on TV, saw Wolf warming up and rushed to the Vet, masks, sign and all.

"By the time I got into the game, they were there," Wolf says. "That's unbelievable."

The next year, Patrick also rushed his newlywed bride, Amy, to a start in between their wedding and reception.

Then on April 5, 2002 -- Opening Day for the Phillies -- Tom Wood, the youngest of 11 children, and seventh son, was hit in a head-on car collision. Not a scratch was on his body, but his brain swelled with damage. While the family was at the hospital, Randy Wolf called.

"I don't know how Randy found out, but he called the hospital to check on him," Patrick says.

Tom Wood passed away five days later. He was 21 years old. Two days later, on April 12, Randy Wolf made his season debut. The Wood family, which had never missed a Randy Wolf start, knew what they had to do. In grief, they gathered at their Wolf Pack section, asked the media to give them their space, and arrived with a new banner: Wolf Pack. Tom Wood 1980-2002. The Wood family watched as the Phillies ran a pregame video tribute to their brother.

Patrick broke down in tears.

Then Wolf took the mound. Right before he threw his first pitch, he turned around and pointed to the Wolf Pack.

The next day, when the Wood family buried Tom, Randy Wolf attended the funeral. The Wood family didn't know the major leaguer, the one whom they paid tribute at each of his home starts, was coming to pay tribute to them, and to Tom.

"I could tell they really appreciated that I was there," Wolf says. "I didn't do it for that reason; I thought it was really cool how [the Wood family] treated me. I didn't think it was that hard for me to do. The fact that they appreciated it, I knew that I made the right decision."

In the years since Tom's passing, the Wolf Pack's bond grew stronger with Randy. When he made the 2003 All-Star team, members of the Wolf Pack went to Chicago, where they met Randy's mother.

"She adopted us," Patrick says with a laugh.

Patrick and Randy exchanged e-mail addresses, and other Wood brothers, some of whom are Philly police officers, remained in touch with Wolf. Then, Wolf left the Phillies after the 2006 season. A native of Los Angeles, he signed with the Dodgers for the 2007 season.

Patrick knew how special Dodger Stadium was to Wolf, who would go to games there with his father, Jim, who passed away when Randy was a senior in high school.

"I was happy for him when he went to L.A.," Patrick says. "As a friend, how could you deny him that? I know some people were bothered in Philly that he left; we weren't among them."

After splitting last year between San Diego and Houston, Wolf signed a one-year $5 million deal with the Dodgers this year. The 33-year-old left-hander went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA this year. In two starts against the Phillies this season, Wolf is 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. At Citizens Bank Park, he is 9-7 with a 4.30 ERA in 27 career starts.

But his memories were really not made here; instead they began a decade ago, in section 700, upper level, at the Vet.

"It was pretty incredible," Wolf says. "It was my second home start and they were there. I think it was like three or four guys … and from that point on they were just there.

"They took me in and made me feel welcome [in] what could be kind of a tough city."

That support continued, even on Sunday. Wolf was at his hotel when one of the detail cops told him John Wood wanted to give him a ride to the ballpark. Wolf said he'd be ready at 3 p.m. And no surprise, there was John Wood, at 3 o'clock, in his cruiser, driving Randy Wolf -- a Dodger -- to Game 3 against the Phillies.

But Wolf knows once Monday night begins, the Wood family's allegiance is with the Phillies. Right after the Phillies beat the Rockies to make it to the NLCS, Patrick Wood sent Wolf an e-mail.

"Despite what anyone is going to say, you know us, we know you," it read. "This is your life, your career. May the best team win."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. You can reach her at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.