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Where Are They Now? Turk Wendell

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When Jim Riggleman arrived for spring training as the new manager of the Cubs in 1995, one of his first orders of business was a sit-down meeting with 27-year-old righthander Turk Wendell, a candidate for the bullpen.

Riggleman called for the end of Wendell’s well-publicized antics, both on the mound and off. No more Wendell brushing his teeth between innings in the dugout. No more refusing to catch new balls put in play by the home-plate umpire. No more slamming the resin bag to the ground before an inning. No more exaggerated leap over the foul line when entering and exiting the field.

“It was the first time I had met this guy,” Wendell said recently from his home in Larkspur, Colo. “I thought, ‘Golly, he’s kind of rained on my parade.’ ”

As it turned out, Wendell said Riggleman’s guidance was instrumental in the pitcher’s maturation process that resulted in a 1996 season for the Cubs that included 70 appearances, a 2.84 ERA and 18 saves.

Wendell turned pro in 1988 as a fifth-round pick of the Braves out of Quinnipiac. Atlanta traded him to the Cubs after the 1991 season, and after an injury-plagued 1992, he made his big league debut in June 1993, recording a 4.37 ERA in 22.2 innings. Chicago traded him to the Mets in August 1997.

Wendell eventually pitched parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues with the Cubs, Mets, Phillies and Rockies, compiling a 36-33 record and 3.93 ERA in 552 games, including 70 or more appearances in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He pitched in two games for the Mets in the 2000 World Series.

The curbing of Wendell’s high jinks did not curtail his speaking his mind. He chastised the Mets for trading him to the Phillies in 2001 and was a rare player to call out Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa for steroids use.

In Wendell’s final season, 2004 with the Rockies, he offered to play for free because he was doing the only thing—other than hunt deer—that he wanted to do in life. The players’ union forced Wendell to accept his $700,000 salary.

“A lot of times people ask me what was the best part about (playing in the big leagues), and I say, ‘I was living my dream every day,’ ” Wendell said.

In retirement, Wendell owned a 209-acre ranch south of Denver where he at times raised game birds, such as pheasants and chukars, as well as cattle, pigs and turkey for slaughter. He also trout fished on the ranch’s six ponds and provided guiding for elk and deer hunters.

Wendell recently sold the ranch with an eye toward purchasing another in Iowa. His daughter, Dakota, plays soccer at Minnesota State and his son, Wyatt, plays baseball at Rock Canyon High in Lone Tree, Colo.

Like his father did in the big leagues, Wyatt wanted to wear jewelry on the baseball field. But high school association rules prohibited him from donning the necklace that included elk teeth and turkey spurs gathered from his father’s ranch.

“The umpires are sticklers about it,” Wendell said. “So one day, I said, ‘Why don’t you worry about calling balls and strikes and getting the call right. A kid wearing a necklace has no bearing on the game, whatsoever.’ ”

Same old Turk Wendell.

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