The Bryant 15-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars of 2002 including current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Travis Wood, fifth from left on the back row, celebrate winning the Southwest Regional and earning a trip to the World Series. Wood and fellow Major Leaguer Cliff Lee will speak tonight at a benefit event at The Center in Bishop Park in Bryant. (File photo, Bryant Times)
By Rob Patrick
Perhaps the first time that Travis Wood gained any notoriety beyond the confines of his hometown of Bryant came in 2002 when he was a member of the Bryant Athletic Association 15-year-old All-Star team that won the Babe Ruth State championship then the Southwest Regional to earn a bid to the World Series in Connersville, Ind.
The lefty started twice during the team’s stay there with eye-popping results. In the opener of pool play against the host team, he pitched what was then just the 16th no-hitter in the history of the tournament. He struck out 17, just one short of a World Series record. In his next outing, he tossed a three-hitter with nine strikeouts in seven innings against a team from Millard-West, Neb.
The team went 2-2 in pool play and just missed out on advancing to the single-elimination championship tournament as the odd team out in a three-way tie for two spots.
Of course, it was not Wood’s last brush with national recognition. In the summer of 2010, he was called up on June 28 and made his Major League debut for the Cincinnati Reds.
“I was fortunate enough to get the call up and pitch well enough to stay up the rest of the year,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We had a great, great group of guys and a great team. We were able to win the (National League Central) Division and get into the post-season for the first time in, I think, 15 years.
“And I was just able to put together some good ballgames,” he added.
How about making your Major League debut in impressive fashion at Wrigley Field in Chicago? How about a near perfect game against Philadelphia? Or hitting your first Major League home run in St. Louis of all places?
He went 5-4 with a 3.51 earned run average in 17 starts covering 102 2/3 innings in which he allowed 85 hits, walked 26 and struck out 85.
Wood returned to central Arkansas in the off-season and has been working out with former Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee of Benton. Tonight, he and Lee plus their agent, Darek Braunecker, will be the featured guests at the Saline County MLB Showcase to benefit the youth baseball programs in their respective hometowns, the BAA and the Benton Optimist Club. The event, sponsored by Sports Shop of Benton, Fitness Unlimited Health Complex and Everett GMC, is being held at the Center at Bishop Park in Bryant. Dinner will be at 7 p.m., and the program featuring Wood, Lee and Braunecker starting at 7:45. Tickets are $30 each and will be available at the door.
On Wednesday, Wood gave the BAA program the ultimate compliment, particularly considering his remarkable accomplishments to date, saying, “It was great. I started playing there when I think I was 9 or 10, maybe younger. But it essentially made me the ballplayer that I am today. I played there until I was 15 then I went to high school and they had a great program, great coaches. It was just an all-around good atmosphere there.
“Since my dad was my coach there pretty much the whole time, I learned a lot about sportsmanship and how to play the game the right way,” he continued. “There was great competition and just a lot of great people there.”
Wood said he likes what he has seen of the new park, which will be the site of BAA games this summer.
“It looks great,” he said. “It’s going to be a million times better than it was, more space, able to get more games in and it looks like they’re doing great things.”
Wood, of course, did some great things himself last summer. Asked to rank two of those highlights, his near perfect-o and his home run, he responded, “They’re running one and two but I guess since only 21 people have thrown a perfect game, it would’ve been nice to have been number 22.”
The home run came on a Saturday afternoon, the Game of the Week on Fox Sports. While his family had, of course, been at his debut at Wrigley, they were also there that day in St. Louis. His folks, Jay and Dena, were interviewed and, naturally, Dena stole the show.
“To have them there to see those things was amazing,” Travis acknowledged.
And, when the Reds made it to the playoffs by beating out the favored Cardinals, which team would they just happen to come up against but the same Philadelphia Phillies that he had nearly blanked, taking his no-hitter and perfect game into the ninth inning then working around a bust-up double to send a scoreless game into extra innings.
Considering all that, Wood might’ve expected to get the call to open against the Phils in the playoffs.
“I honestly didn’t know,” he recounted. “I knew I’d pitched well but I knew we had other guys that had pitched great too so, basically, I just wanted to make the post-season roster and help out anyway I could. Fortunately, it was out of the ‘pen. I was able to come in and keep the game close and give us a chance to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
After relieving starter Edison Volquez in the second inning with his team trailing 4-0, Wood tossed 3 1/3 innings allowing just one hit and a walk with three strikeouts. Had the series gone to a fourth game, there was speculation that he might get the starting nod in Game 4 but the Phils swept the series in three games.
The initial move to the Majors, he allowed, went smoothly. It helped that he had played with many of the players on the Reds on the way up through the Minor Leagues.
“The guys were very supportive,” he said. “They were excited I was up there and they treated me well. So, we just went out there and had fun.”
And Wood was amazingly composed, at least outwardly.
“You’re always a little bit more rolling around on the inside,” he explained, "but, essentially, it’s just the same game that I’ve played since I was little. Nothing’s changed about it except for the surroundings and the atmosphere. I’m confident that I’ve prepared well enough to go out and pitch well. So, I just do it. I know once the ball leaves my hand, I’ve got no control over what happens; if they catch it or they drop it, if I throw a strike or a ball.”
Pitchers and catchers report to the Reds spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 16, and Wood’s goal is the make the starting rotation again.
“I know we’ve tied up three starting pitchers with Volquez, (Johnny) Cueto and Bronson (Arroyo) under contract so I know there’s two spots,” he noted. “So basically I’ve been working out, getting ready and I’m going to take it into spring and battle for one of those spots.”
Has the off-season been different this year as a Major Leaguer than in the past?
“It really hasn’t other that taking the experience, what I was able to learn from being up there,” he answered. “It’s the same workout, getting after it all the time, getting your arm in shape and getting ready to run.”
Regarding his workouts with Lee, Wood added, “We thrive off of each other. We get to the gym pretty much every day. He pushes me as much as I push him, I think. We don’t typically talk about baseball situations. Mainly, it’s just the good work ethic. We hit on some baseball topics every once in a while just to reminisce about some things. Mainly, we just get after it in the weight room and throw and we’ll talk about hunting.
“Hunting was rough this year, you know,” he related. “There wasn’t a whole lot of water for duck season. We had some ducks early and then we didn’t. It was hard this year.”
He was, however, able to bag a pair of deer.
All that being said, the greatest highlight of 2010, Wood admitted, was becoming a father.“His name is Zander Thomas and he’s three-months old today,” announced the proud daddy. “It definitely changes things. It’s pretty awesome. You get a lot more protective.”
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Travis Wood recalls days in Bryant youth leagues and first year of Major League ball in advance of benefit event.