More than a week after her son, Travis, and his team, the Chicago Cubs, made history by bringing Major League Baseball’s World Series championship to the Windy City for the first time since 1908, Dena Wood’s voice is still raspy. She and her husband Jay attended all seven Series games.
“I went to all the playoffs except the Los Angeles Dodgers series,” she related during a presentation at the Boys and Girls Club of Bryant on Wednesday. “I came back and worked for three days. Jay made it to everything. He went to every game. The only games I missed were the three games in Los Angeles.”
So she was there when Travis smacked a homerun off George Kontos of the San Francisco Giants in game two of the National League Division Series. It was just the second time in Major League history that a relief pitcher had hit a home run in a postseason game. (The only other was Rosy Ryan of the Giants in the World Series in the early 1920’s.)
She was also there when her son pitched in Games 1, 3 and 6 of the World Series, closing out the win in the sixth game to set up the dramatic Game 7 in Cleveland.
“Those were the highlights,” Dena said.
Since then, she added, she’s just been trying to catch up on sleep, though she’s been back to work at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration where she’s been employed for 34 years.
“The night of the seventh game, after they won, with the rain delay then it rained afterwards, we flew back with the team and we got back to Chicago from Cleveland after all the celebration there,” she recalled. “We actually got back to Travis’ house about 7:45 that morning. It was an all-nighter.”
Of the Series, she said, “I can’t even put it into words. I’ve been to thousands of games with him but, just the atmosphere — especially at Wrigley Field in Chicago — it was amazing. The fan support — then when we went to Cleveland to play, it was incredible how many Cub fans went to Cleveland to watch all the games. It was incredible.”
So when was she most nervous?
“Every time he came in to pitch,” Dena stated. “When we would see him in the bullpen, warming up, that’s when my stomach would get in knots because I knew, ‘Oh, he’s getting ready.’ Then when (Cubs manager Joe) Maddon would come out and throw up his left arm, I was like, ‘Oh, here comes Travis.’”
She and Jay were also able to attend the parade that was held in Chicago.
“That was amazing,” she related. “I have never seen anything like that, over 5-million people. And it started at Wrigley. The parade didn’t really start there but there were people lined up.”
Travis started the parade in a hunter’s vest and before the event was over was shirtless, waving the vest around.
“Travis was being Travis,” Dena said with a smile and a shake of her head. “He had a good time. He enjoyed it.”
If you ran into the Woods in Bryant before the season or just after it started in April, wearing their Cubs gear, they were very optimistic about this season as a lot of Cubs fans were with the collection of talent that had been accumulated. But there was more to it for Dena.
“After spring training, Travis came back and said, you know this is a really good group of guys,” she recalled. “Everybody thought that, yeah, maybe they could go far and, really, after they started playing a little bit.
“The Cubs organization, not just the team, but from Theo (Epstein, president of baseball operations) to Jeb Hoyer (executive vice-president and general manager) on down to Maddon, it really is a family. It’s unbelievable how they treated the family too,” she added.
The Wood family including Travis, his wife Brittany and their kids, 2-year-old Everly and 6-year-old Zander, along with his folks, will be honored with a parade in Bryant on Friday at 5 p.m., as part of a Welcome Home celebration. The parade will begin at Ashley Park where Travis and his brother B.J. (who will not be able to attend, unfortunately) started playing baseball when they were 4 years old. It will conclude at Bryant Stadium where pre-game ceremonies will include presentations from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and local dignitaries. In addition, the Bryant Athletic Hall of Honor will officially present Travis with his Hall of Honor plaque. He was named to the inaugural class of the Hall a couple of years ago.
“That is amazing,” Dena said of the Homecoming events. “That just shows you what a great community we live in. Bryant, Saline County, it’s just awesome. Even when we were up there I was getting texts of encouragement and congratulations. They’ve been really good. And they have been all through — even when Travis first started out, Bryant has been awesome.”
A four-sport star in junior high, Wood first gained particular notoriety when, as a member of the Bryant Athletic Association 15-year-old All-Star team, he pitched a no-hitter and struck out 18 in the first game of the Babe Ruth World Series.
After playing football as a sophomore at Bryant High School, the scouts started showing up at his baseball games the next spring. It was at that point, he made the decision to focus on baseball. During his senior year, he signed to play at the University of Arkansas but when, in June, he was drafted the 60th player overall by the Cincinnati Reds. He signed his first pro contract and began his climb through the Reds minor leagues, excelling at almost every stop along the way.
He made his Major League debut on July 1, 2010, ironically against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
In his third career start in Philadelphia, he took a perfect game into the ninth in a scoreless duel with the Phillies’ Roy Halladay. Wood finished with a one-hitter through nine innings of a game that went 11 before Philadelphia prevailed 1-0.
Wood was traded to the Cubs on Dec. 21, 2011. It was a struggle that season with a team that just wasn’t very good.
Things went better in 2013 and, along with hitting his first grand slam, he started the season with nine consecutive quality starts. He was named to the National League All-Star team, though he didn’t get into the game.
In 2015, the Cubs’ new manager, Maddon, moved him to the bullpen where he excelled, posting a 2.95 earned run average and four saves. This season, he was 4-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 77 games.
Dena said she kind of liked the move to the bullpen.
“I knew then that I had to get nervous every game instead of every five days,” she allowed. “But I like him in the bullpen. I think he would prefer to be a starter. But I really like him in the bullpen because, there for a while, he was in like almost every game. I got to see him more.”
Actually, Travis is a free agent now, technically not on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. He may return to the Cubs but if he tries the market, the timing couldn’t be better as a reliever considering the recent success of teams like Cleveland’s Indians and the Kansas City Royals, who won the 2015 World Series. Both used their bullpens extensively. With other teams looking to follow those leads, the market for relievers may have never been higher.
Travis graduated from Bryant High School in 2005. Not only with his arm but with his bat, he helped the Hornets, coached by Terry Harper, reach their first State championship game and the American Legion Bryant Black Sox, led by Craig and Tic Harrison, to within a win of a State title. Wood was named the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.