A few weeks back, I asked Doug Harris, the Nationals’ farm director, if he could suggest a good story from the minor league camp. I was looking for someone under the radar (i.e., not Bryce Harper), someone with a compelling back-story, someone on the verge of a breakthrough. Harris said: “Destin Hood.”
So I went to the minor league complex in search of Destin Hood.
Hood, who turns 21 next month, was the Nationals’ second round draft pick in 2008, and he signed a month after the draft to a $1.1 million contract, much to the chagrin of Nick Saban, who had recruited Hood to play wide receiver at the University of Alabama.
After spending the bulk of the 2009 season at short-season Class A Vermont, where he hit .246/.302/.333 in 38 games, Hood was promoted to low Class A Hagerstown in 2010 — an aggressive move by the Nationals, given his struggles in Vermont. But the Nationals’ faith in Hood was rewarded when he hit .285/.333/.388 for Hagerstown, which put Hood on the radar screens of some of those prospect tout-sheets. (He ranked as the 20th-best prospect in the Nationals’ system by BaseballProspectus.com.)
I caught up with Hood at 7 o’clock one morning outside the Nationals’ minor league complex. We sat at a picnic table, and here is what we talked about:
Q. How do you feel about your 2010 season?
A. I feel like I came into a little bit of an identity as a baseball player, trying to work hard and make sure I was doing the right work to get the right results. And my coaches, they were always there to help with anything I needed on and off the field, so that was a big help. It was just a good experience for me because it was my first full season – with the coaches telling me how to work and to become the kind of player I wanted to be. Especially with it being my first [full] year, I wanted to start off on the right foot to make my identity as a baseball player.
Q. Do you feel as if you’re becoming a baseball player, as opposed to an athlete?
A. I think I’m getting there. I think I’m starting to break that mold as a football player and starting to become known for the baseball things I do, as opposed to the football instincts I had. It just comes with a lot of work and making sure I’m listetning to my coaches. That’s the biggest thing: listening to my coaches and doing the things that they say are baseball-like. Going about your business the right way, doing your work in the outfield, taking the right routes, being patient – things like that. That’s the biggest thing for me. For the most part I’m just trying to break that football mold and become a baseball player.
Q. Where would you say you are in that process?
A. I feel like I’ve got some good work done. But I still have a ways to go to become the baseball player I want to be. And I think that if I keep putting in the work I can be that one day. It paid dividends last year and I hope to build on that year to year.
Q. What are your goals for the 2011 season?
A. My goals are to maximize my power, to obviously cut down on my strikeouts and just becomne a good team player, basically, so I can help my team out the most I can. And to become not only an offensive player, but a defensive player as well.
Q. Have you grown more comfortable over the past two years with the decision to choose baseball over football?
A. I was comfortable with it when came out of high school, because I never wanted to play in the NFL. So I figured if I wasn’t going to play in the NFL, why go to college and play football for a couple years and risk getting hurt or whatever and then go play baseball? I never second guessed it at all. I still go back and hang out with the guys I played football with, but for the most part this is what I want to do. I’ve been happy with the decision from day one.
Q. Even after both the in-state teams that recruited you (Alabama and Auburn) won national championships?
A. I mean, that’s cool for them. But again, I didn’t want to be in a helmet anyway, so there wasn’t any reason for me to go to try to win a ring in something I didn’t want to be doing. I had a better opportunity playing baseball, and I always wanted to play baseball over football. That was my first choice. All the colleges always knew that if I got drafted where I wanted to get drafted at, I was going to play baseball. They knew that before they have me a scholarship. They knew if I had a chance to play baseball I was going to go play baseball. It wasn’t like a football player just saying, “Oh, all of a sudden I want to go play baseball now. I never was a football player at heart. I just played because I could and it was fun.
Q. Was there one turning point for you at Hagerstown — one lesson that sunk in, or one mechanical adjustment that changed everything, or one mental adjustment?
A. I think the whole Hagerstown experience in itself was a turning point. Just going into my first full season and being able to try and define myself as a baseball player, try to get how to be a team player, how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to pay attention to the game through nine innings, how to stay in at-bats and not give away at-bats, how to go in and get your work done in the morning and carry that work ethic through the whole year. I think that year will be the building block for the rest of my career. The results I had -- at the beginning of the year I had no clue what my results were going to be. I had to put the work in and concentrate and focus. But now that I see the results at the end of the year, now it’s like a stepping stone – that all the work I did, I know that’s a big part of my success. You have to put the work in. You’ve got to put the work in first, and whatever happens after that — years may go by where you don’t have the same numbers. But I know from the first full season, the work I put in did pay dividends by the end of the season. So that’s what I’ll continue to do. – do the work and wait for the rest to happen on its own.
Q. Do you allow yourself to think about making it to the big leagues?
A. No, not at all. It’s great to have that goal, and that’s everybodys goal here. But [former Hagerstown hitting coach] Tony Tarasco always said in Hagerstown, “You cant be in Potomac when youre in Hagerstown. Your mind can’t be in Potomac when your body’s in Hagerstown.” He said it so many times, it stuck. I mean, if I’m worrying about who’s moving and going where, I’ve got a game we’re playing two hours form now,and I’m not even focused. I’m focused on something I cant even control. So for the most part, it’s my goal, but I cant jump levels and skip my mind through these levels because I have to focus on what I’m doing now.