On an unseasonably warm night in early February, Travis Wood is at ease in his spacious home just outside of Bryant. Dressed in a pullover, baggy basketball shorts and slip-ons with socks, Wood is in the kitchen with visitors standing around the large island. His young daughter, Everly, goes back and forth from her bedroom to the kitchen as her bedtime is passed.
Finally, he scoops her up on the island and holds her close and when she says, “Daddy,” he says, “Yes ma’am.” “I love you,” she says. They hug, and she giggles and climbs off the island runs back to her room to continue the game of cat and mouse.
Wood is only months removed from his biggest season in Major League Baseball. His wizardry out of the bullpen was one of the reasons the Chicago Cubs won a World Series for the first time in 108 years.
At the time, Wood has no contract and spring training was about to begin for pitchers and catchers. As has been his nature, since he was a kid, he wasn’t worried. That’s what agents are for.
What Wood is focused on is enjoying the last drop of comfort that comes from being at home with his family and friends. The little moment he just shared with Everly is something he’s savored since third grade when he moved to Bryant.
“This is home; this is where I grew up,” he says. “This is where I want to be and where I want to raise my family. I just enjoy that simple life of waking up, taking the kids to school and coming back and working out and not having to worry about anything else.”
There isn’t any place he would rather be, and he admits when he’s on the road in glamorous cities, he lays in bed in hotels and watches TV not wanting to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle.
“It’s not that he doesn’t want to be in the Major Leagues, but when you talk to him during the season, he can get a little homesick,” says Wood’s former American Legion coach and current neighbor, Chris “Tic” Harrison says. “He gets to come home for 80 days, and he feels like when he’s gone he is missing something. He’s comfortable here with his family and friends.”
Jay and Dena Wood had settled in Little Rock. By the time their boys B.J. and Travis were in fifth and third grade, respectively, they decided to move to an acreage outside of Bryant near Jay’s parents.
Both boys played sports and got more acquainted with classmates playing in different leagues. Jay, a former college baseball player and veteran of the 30-and-over baseball league, coached both sons.
“He was always on the go and a very active kid,” Dena Wood says of her youngest son.
When the brothers didn’t have a ball in their hands, they were hunting and fishing or roaming around the property.
“One thing about Travis is, you didn’t dare him to do anything because he would do it,” Dena Wood says. “They climbed on the house and jumped on the trampoline until it broke. We were just shaking our heads. It was typical Travis.”
Wood freely admits he found “mischief” with his older brother and that tight circle of friends who still enjoys time together, but he mostly avoided any serious trouble.
While Wood played baseball and showed promise pitching and playing the outfield in his formative years, he played it mostly because there was nothing else to do over the summer.
“I didn’t like baseball, probably because I got pushed,” Wood says. “I was always a more physical guy. I was a football and basketball kind of guy. Luckily, I just turned out to be good at baseball because I wasn’t big enough to have a future in football or basketball.”
Even though Wood was small, weighing just over 150 pounds in high school, he never shied away from contact and liked to play football because as he put it, “I like to hit people.”
“He was the type of kid that wasn’t scared of anything,” Jay Wood says. “As a parent, that worried me because he didn’t care [about his body] and gave everything he had, even though he was small. He played hard in anything he played.”
So, it was football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer.
As he became a teenager, it was apparent that Wood’s left arm was special. He helped the Bryant 15 year olds into the national Babe Ruth World Series and struck out 17 while tossing a no-hitter during the tournament.
“I was umpiring his games when he was 13 and 14, and I could already see a change,” Harrison says. “His arm was already developing, and he was throwing on another level than the other kids.”
Wood entered high school playing four sports. He knew he would have to give up track to play baseball, but he planned on playing varsity football, basketball and baseball.
During his sophomore baseball season, his arm was as lively as ever delivering fastballs close to 90 mph. After finishing the season and going to camps and being evaluated by scouts, Wood decided focus on baseball.
Then-Bryant varsity Coach Terry Harper, Jay and Dena and Harrison tried to spell out the risks of playing all sports.
“We didn’t tell him he couldn’t play anything else, but we wanted him to know all of the options and what might happen [with baseball],” Harper says. “I don’t think he understood what he had. Sometimes kids don’t see the big picture. We just wanted to explain to him what was at stake and what could happen with baseball.”
He had a breakout season as a junior and helped the Hornets to the Class AAAAA state baseball championship game where they lost to North Little Rock.
As a senior, Wood started his season with a fastball that touched in the upper 90s and a changeup. Harper helped Wood develop the pitch which he worked on during the previous summer during the American Legion season. It was the same changeup that Harper helped Benton native Cliff Lee, who eventually won a Cy Young with the Philadelphia Phillies, add to his arsenal.
Bryant didn’t win the 2005 state title losing to Sylvan Hills before they could reach the finals. Bryant, who was ranked No. 14 in the nation by one publication in 2004, was a heavy favorite to win with Wood and fellow hurler Justin Wells, who eventually pitched at the University of Arkansas.
“I don’t think we have gone back and talked about that game recently,” Wood says. “I know it is something if we talk about high school ball, we wish we could have had it.”
The consolation prize came a few weeks after the state tournament when the Cincinnati Reds picked Wood 60th overall.
It was a goal Wood had in mind once he was clocked close to 90 mph the summer after his sophomore year.
“Once they told me I was good and scouts started coming, I really had no urge to go to school,” he says. “I was just going out to get drafted and putting all of my eggs in that basket. Some were encouraging and some said go to school. At the end of the day, it was my decision.
“My whole goal was I wanted to be the best. Where are the best players? In professional baseball, so let’s go and see where we stand.”
The 18-year-old headed to Sarasota, Florida to play for the Sarasota Reds, Cincinnati’s Rookie Class club. Later, Wood was promoted to play for Billings (Montana), another Rookie Class team. He finished a combined 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 11 starts and 14 appearances.
Wood spent all of the 2006 season at Class A Dayton (Ohio). He started 27 games and compiled a 10-5 record with a 3.66 ERA. He also struck out 133 batters and held opponents to a .215 batting average.
After a breakout season, Wood came back to Saline County to enjoy some down time. That’s when he met 21-year-old Brittany. She was a Bryant native, who had graduated two years ahead of Wood.
“I had no idea who he was,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about him or baseball. I had never been to a minor league game, even [an Arkansas Travelers] game.”
Wood appreciated meeting Brittany before he became a Major Leaguer. “It was refreshing. She loved me for who I am, it wasn’t about baseball because she knew nothing,” he says. “I got to teach her everything.”
The two began dating and Brittany, who had attended college at the University of Central Arkansas, moved with Wood to Sarasota where he started the 2008 season. He advanced to Class AA Chattanooga (Tennessee) but struggled.
He moved to new Class AA affiliate Carolina the next year and got on track. At the end of 2009, he got called up to Louisville and finished 4-2. Wood started 2009 in Louisville but got promoted to the Reds by June 2010. Wood finished 5-4 in 17 starts.
“I wanted to be in [the MLB] in three years, but I figured out unless you are just blowing up, it will take a while,” he says. “It got frustrating at times, but it was worth it.”
After two seasons in Cincinnati, including a National League Division series appearance in 2010, the Reds traded Wood to the Chicago Cubs. In 2015 the Cubs beat St. Louis in the NLDS and nearly won 100 games. That set up the historical World Series win in 2016 with Wood, who has appeared in one All-Star Game, working mostly out of the bullpen with a 4-0 record.
“Everybody was there to win, and everybody bought into winning,” Wood says. “Everybody was going to do everything they could to win. If somebody slacked off, there was somebody behind him to pick him up. And when that guy slacked off there was another behind him. We all had each other’s backs. It was a good feeling to win in a place like Chicago where they had been waiting so long.”
On Feb. 13, Wood signed a deal with the Kansas City Royals. He will go back to being a starter and join Cubs teammate Jason Hammel in the rotation. At 30, Wood has a lot more pitches left in his arm, and he’s looking forward to new challenges in Kansas City. But he’s already preparing for retirement in his hometown.
“I always plan to stay [in Bryant],” he says. “I’m never leaving here. I will hang out with family and friends and do a lot of fishing and hunting.”