On an unforgettable historic team, Travis Wood’s impact stands out prominently. The Bryant native was a reliable option for manager Joe Maddon out of the bullpen in 2016 and also found other ways to help the Cubs win. And his wardrobe at the Cubs first World Series victory parade in 108 years stole the show.
Wood was a force in a variety of relief scenarios. He pitched in 86 games which was tied for tops in Major League Baseball in 2016. Wood also made nine postseason appearances. He finished 4-0 with a 2.95 ERA.
As the longest tenured Cub on the roster, Wood showed versatility on the mound coming in at the beginning of games like he did when Jason Hammel was ailing in the top of the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He retired 12 batters and earned the win. He also pitched late relief including a game at Milwaukee when entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 12th inning. Wood sat down the first three batters he faced, and then walked with the bases loaded to score the go-ahead run and secure the win.
Wood also had flashbacks to his Bryant High School days when he played outfield and hit regularly belting 12 home runs as a senior.
During 2015 spring training Wood was told to work with the outfielders because Maddon had a penchant for using relievers in left field, so they could pitch again in a different situation. The 2015 season came and went, but he wasn’t used.
As the 2016 season started, Wood continued to shag balls seriously in batting practicing wondering when his opportunity would come. It happened in July in a game against Cincinnati. He played an inning of left field but no balls were hit in his direction.
“I knew they said it could happen, but it hadn’t happened and then all of a sudden it was real, and I was in the game,” Wood says. “I was pretty nervous the first time, and then nothing got hit to me, and I was mad nothing got hit to me.”
Wood got maybe more than he bargained for later in the month when the Cubs hosted the Seattle Mariners on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Wood entered the game in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no one out. He got out of the jam but stayed in the game in left field in the seventh inning as Pedro Strop took to the mound. The Mariners Franklin Gutierrez crushed a Stop offering right at Wood. He backpedaled, reached up with his glove and snagged the hard-hit ball as he crashed into the ivy-covered brick wall at Wrigley Field.
“I knew it was coming my way, so I just took off,” Wood says. “It was almost a panic because when you shag it is day time. I haven’t caught a fly ball at night in years, let alone with 40,000 people there and lights on and everything. I knew I had it on a line and looked to see where the ball was and when I turned around it was like the ball was going to hit me in the face. I got the hands up in time.”
Wood showed a good eye as a batter in the regular-season game in Milwaukee, but he showed his power during a very opportune time during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against San Francisco at Wrigley Field. The Cubs led 4-2 in the fourth when Wood entered the game in relief of an injured Kyle Hendricks. Wood came up in the bottom of the frame and blasted a solo homer and helped Chicago to the 5-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series. Wood was the first relief pitcher since 1924 to hit a home run in the postseason.
“I am not much of a showman, I don’t show much emotion, and I lost it,” he says. “I was yelling and screaming. I had guys I had been with on that team for the last five years, and they said, ‘We have never seen you act like that.’ I am not the guy who shows a lot of emotion. I just handle my business and walk off, but when I hit that home run, I lost it.”
Wood pitched in three games during the historic World Series against the Cleveland Indians including closing out a lopsided win in Game 6.
He watched from the Bullpen at Progressive Field as the Cubs squandered a three-run lead in the eighth inning only to take a two-run lead in the 10th inning following a 17-minute rain delay and held on to the 8-7 10-inning win.
“You get married and have your kids, and it is the best feeling you can have, but [winning the World Series] is just different,” he says. “There is more adrenaline. You can yell and scream and jump around. I think everybody on the team was like, ‘I can’t believe that just happened.’
The game ended in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Millions turned out for the parade that Friday. Wood, an avid Hunter, borrowed an Under Armour camouflage vest from an employee at a Wrigleyville establishment he visited Thursday. He didn’t wear a shirt under the vest and eventually shed the vest and was shirtless during the parade.
“I had to ask if I could do it,” he says. “I said, ‘The season is over, right? I can actually be me, my true self.’ I was asking Jon Lester and John Lackey and David Ross if I should wear it, and they said, ‘You just won the World Series with the Chicago Cubs. You can do whatever you want.’”
Wood did have his game jersey in his back pocket and put it on at the request of his mother. “I saw him after the parade and said, ‘Travis Allen, you put that jersey on right now so I can take a picture,” Dena Wood says.
A week later, Wood, this time dressed in a nice blazer and jeans, rode a fire truck in a parade in his hometown. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed the day ‘Travis Wood Day’ and it was announced SW Third Street in Bryant would be renamed TWood Way.
“That was special because there were so many people I hadn’t seen for so long like former teachers,” Wood says. “It was a great honor.”
As the 2017 season begins Wood will be in a Kansas City Royals uniform moving back to the starting rotation. However, the Cubs will always be close to Wood’s heart.
“This past World Series will never be forgotten and all of the guys on this team will be remembered as Cubs,” he says.