New swing helps Wood restore confidence
In wake of 2010 struggles, Halos third baseman vows to 'just relax'
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Brandon Wood's bride of three months, the former Lindsey Stratton, has training as a firefighter. It was useful last season as her fiance struggled through a firestorm of a season with the Angels.
"Lindsey was with me all through last year -- I was lucky to have her," said Wood, who turned 26 on Wednesday. "That was a test for us, and we came through it with flying colors. She has confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself."
The challenge now is inspiring confidence in others. Atop that list is Angels manager Mike Scioscia, not to mention a wide world of skeptics fixed on his .146 average in 2010 with nothing resembling the power he'd shown throughout an illustrious Minor League career.
"When I took my shower after our last game in Texas," Wood said, "I told myself, 'I'm washing everything away. I'm leaving everything that happened this year in this locker room.
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Spring Training Info
"'I'm going home, to the [Arizona] Fall League, and I'm going to get married [on Dec. 4] and give my wife the wedding and honeymoon she deserves and will never forget.
"'And then I'm going to go to work.'"
Wood pounded AFL pitching, restoring a measure of confidence, and delivered on his promises to his new bride. But he didn't review video of his stroke or revisit 2010 in any form.
He labored in the gym and found what he feels was missing in his swing, putting into action his own thoughts and those of a few others.
"I tried [last season] to hit like 15 or 20 different people in six months," Wood said. "It's pretty hard to develop the confidence I need doing that.
"I think I've found the swing I need to be successful at the big league level. I'm going to stick with it even if I go 1-for-50. I believe in it. People can say it's a joke, but I really don't care. It's what I believe and trust that matters."
Back stiffness stemming from an offseason workout regimen he has done since he was in high school in nearby Scottsdale set Wood back a few days this spring. In his Cactus League debut on Tuesday, he lashed a two-strike double against the Reds' Johnny Cueto in his first at-bat, striking out his next time up.
"You looked good," locker mate Bobby Abreu said, nodding in approval to Wood on Wednesday morning. "I liked what you did there. That guy [Cueto] is tough, and you looked confident. That's how you have to be."
Wood, competing for the third-base job with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo, understands how essential his own self-worth is with so many critics having written him off.
"I'm 100 percent more confident than I was with the swing I had last year," Wood said. "There are some similarities to where my hands are, but I'm more into my legs. I'm focused on driving my lower half to the baseball. I would do it for three or four days in a row this winter and it would feel like I did squats for four straight hours.
"I was blessed to have good hands. Sometimes you can cheat and not use your lower half. That's when I get in bad habits. I'm not going to let that happen again."
Along with bringing his lower body in his swing, Wood is concentrating on not rushing things.
"I need to just relax and enjoy playing baseball," he said, knowing it's not as simple as it sounds. "I'm going to slow everything down -- my walk to the plate, taking my time in the batter's box, stepping out now and then to think about things.
"If I can enjoy my at-bat, it has to help. That got away from me last year. I got off to a slow start, got some hits, and then hit in some bad luck, lining out, guys making great plays.
"Fifty or 60 at-bats in, I'm looking at the scoreboard and seeing .091 next to my name. I'm thinking I've got to get some hits. That's when I put all the pressure on myself."
Scioscia feels "a sense of urgency with Brandon," who has to make the 25-man roster or be exposed to waiver claims unless he's involved in a trade.
"He knows coming off last year he's a better player than he showed," Scioscia said. "He's swinging the bat well.
"If the experience he had last year doesn't make him a better, more mature ballplayer, it's a shame. He has much more talent than he showed last year, and that's what we're all waiting to see."
Wood is aware of how important this spring is, but he's determined not to stress and let that interfere with his mind-set.
"I've always been pretty hard on myself, and it snowballed on me big time last year," he said. "I lost my job, and that was rough. Until you've been through it, it's impossible to know what that's like.
"To come out of last year and have the confidence I have in Spring Training, I feel like it was a great learning experience for me. I kept my head on my shoulders, didn't get too down. I can thank Lindsey and my family for that -- and my teammates. They were great through it all."
The upshot is that Wood comes to the new season with a new attitude to go with his new swing.
"I can only go up from here," he said, grinning. "Or I'll be out of the game."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.