It is rare to meet a man who’s accomplished great things in life, but remains humble and mindful about what’s important in life. That’s the impression I took after interviewing former Detroit Tigers’ second baseman Jake Wood.
Wood, who made his Major League debut with the Tigers in 1961, was one of the first African American players in the Tigers’ minor league system. Wood grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and had suffered from a culture shock going to Lakeland, Florida for Tigers’ spring training.
“There was no real division within the team on the field or off the field. We played together and worked together” said Wood. “But I was shocked to see how differently people were treated. I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and going through this was a real culture shock.”
Despite the culture shock Wood worked hard through the minor leagues. He made his Major League debut with the Tigers on April 11th 1961 vs. the Cleveland Indians. His first Major League hit came against future 200-game winner Jim Perry; a home run to the deep part of left field at the old Tiger Stadium. Wood said he felt “elated” to hit a home run in his first Major League game and was happy to be a big leaguer. In fact Wood’s favorite career moment came during the 1961 season.
“My favorite moment had to be playing at Yankee Stadium” said Wood. “Living in I grew up a Dodgers’ fan and always loved New York baseball. I had bus loads of my family come in to watch me during my first series against the Yankees. It was a thrill and an honor to play at Yankee Stadium.”
Wood also recalled the one of the funnier moments of his career, even though he didn’t think it was funny at the time.
“There was a cage in the clubhouse at Tiger Stadium. One of my teammates, I think it was Norm Cash said there was a mongoose inside the cage. He asked if I wanted to touch it. I said yeah and Norm had me push a button. Wouldn’t you know when I pushed that button a bird like thing flew out of the cage and hit me on the face. Me, thinking it was the Mongoose started running. I ran as fast as I ever did!”
Wood would finish 6th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1961. He did lead the league in triples (14) and had 171 hits and 30 stolen bases. Wood would go on to play in seven Major League seasons, six of which were spent with the Tigers. He retired after the 1967 season, but keeps in touch with the game. In 2011 Wood was honored by the Tigers at Comerica Park for his lifelong dedication to baseball. At age 76, Wood still offers advice to the future of baseball.
“You gotta play and have repetition” said Wood. “When a double is hit to right field, do you know where you’re supposed to be. You’ve got to think about these things ahead of time or it might be too late when the play happens.”
New Jersey Baseball Magazine would like to thank Mr. Wood for his contributions to the great game of baseball. From speaking to Mr. Wood, I could tell he is a humble man who’s worked hard to succeed in life. He is one of baseball and America’s true heroes because he believed his dreams and made them a reality.
(Author’s Note: I would like to thank Mr. Eddie Kovac, Founder of Play Ball Financial for setting up the interview between Mr. Wood and myself. You can check out Mr. Kovac’s business at http://new.playballfinancial.com/ for more information. You can also check out Joe Nardini’s article on Mr. Kovac’s father Ed Kovac Sr. who played for the Detroit Tigers on NJB archives 2012, http://www.njbaseballmag.com/index.php/2012/07/ed-kovac-the-integrity-of-the-game/ )