Early Success Validates Hood's Choice In Sports

HAGERSTOWN, Md.—Destin Hood threw a party the night Alabama played in college football's national championship game in January.

The Mobile, Ala., resident got together with friends, brought in some pizza and watched Alabama topple Texas for its 13th national title. They loved every minute of it. Roll Tide.

Hood has a closer connection to the Tide than most—after all, he almost played for them. He signed a football scholarship with Alabama but decided instead to follow his life-long dream of playing in the major leagues when the Nationals picked him in the second round (55th overall) of the 2008 draft.

Hood locked up a $1.1 million bonus after signing with Washington and quickly started chasing his dream. As much as he loved football, baseball always has been closest to his heart.

"It was a career decision," Hood said. "I started playing baseball when I was four. I've always wanted to be a major league baseball player."

Hood appears well on his way toward his goal. The 20-year old outfielder led low Class A Hagerstown with a .313 average through his first 43 games, usually sitting somewhere in the South Atlantic League's top 10.

He also had one homer and 26 RBIs. Hood batted a combined .279/.335/.442 in 2009 after stints in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season New York-Penn League.

"I think he's a big leaguer," Hagerstown manager Matt LeCroy said. "He'll play a corner position in the outfield. Time will tell, but as long as he keeps playing the game and learning the game, he'll be a big leaguer. He's fun to watch."

Hard At Work

LeCroy said Hood has grown into a leader who understands what's needed to keep moving up. The skipper said Hood came into camp in great shape and continues working hard.

He entered the season ranked as one of the Nationals' brighter outfield prospects, on par with the more experienced Justin Maxwell and Michael Burgess.

All the same, Hood said he wants to always stay focused at the plate and on the field. He seeks feedback and criticisms from coaches and instructors in the minors because it will help him improve.

"I don't want to be a one-dimensional player," Hood said. "I want to be sure my game is evolving every day. It's kind of fun for people to tell me what they want to get better. It's just like a challenge so I can mark it off the list."

The Nationals are delighted with Hood's attitude and work ethic.

First-year director of player development Doug Harris agreed with LeCroy that Hood's strong commitment to offseason training is something they liked to see on their list.

"The work that he put in is paying off for him now," Harris said. "He's worn out mistakes from other pitchers. His swing has been short, and he's got a good path to the ball."

The Nationals are trying hard to build a farm system with young players like Hood. They want to be able to use their minor league teams to develop talent instead of relying on the rather expensive free agent market.

"We're trying to build a foundation with each of those players," Harris said. "He's really one of the guys that is that guy. He's at a real good place right now."

Hood's love of baseball didn't come from going to a lot of pro games and dreaming of seeing himself on the diamond that his heroes played on. In fact, that never happened.

Hood turned 20 earlier this spring and has attended only one major league game in his life—in Cincinnati a few years ago.

The Braves are five to six hours away from Mobile, and they're the closest team to Hood and his family, so the logistics of his life kept him away from the big ballparks.

Hood never even had a favorite team or player. But he loved that trip to the Great American Ball Park and tried to take in as many details as possible.

"It was just great," Hood said. "You see the field they play on. It was a lot of fun."

He'd like to go again soon and be on the field to see another major league stadium, preferably Nationals Park in Washington.

Keep In Touch

Baseball is now the biggest part of Hood's life, but he hasn't forgotten his beloved Tide.

Hood still regularly stays involved with the Alabama football team. He'll go to home games whenever possible and connects with people in the program, talking to players and coaches from time to time.

Hood still has his finger on the pulse of the program. "I've got a lot of friends who play on that team. I don't have any hard feelings. They welcome me every time I come up there."

Football and Alabama actually could be taking some of the pressure off Hood. If baseball doesn't pan out, he'd be able to go back to the Tide and play football—it's a safe bet they'd take him, based on what Alabama coach Nick Saban had to say after Hood signed with Washington.

"We have two players that you obviously know about that we recruited that signed professional baseball contracts in Destin Hood and Melvin Ray," Saban said in a press conference before Alabama began its 2008 summer camp. "We wish those players well in their endeavors, and they know that opportunity here still exists if they ever want to come and play college football."

But for now, Hood will just enjoy being an Alabama fan while trying to become a Washington National.

Jeff Seidel is a freelance writer based in Baltimore