By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – Clubhouses can be full of fun and they can be full of problems, too. The 2015 Altoona Curve clubhouse is the former.
“The camaraderie on this team is like nothing else,” Curve third baseman Eric Wood said during a recent interview at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “Guys are always laughing and joking.”
The interview was interrupted by shortstop Gift Ngoepe, who hollered at Wood, “you are not part of the heart of the lineup.”
Nearby, catcher Jacob Stallings chimed in, “that’s right, Woody, you’re not in the heart of the lineup.”
“That’s how it is,” Woods, laughing, said. “We’re all buddies.”
Laughing and joking are part of a winning team, and the Curve have been winning. The Curve have led the Eastern League’s Western Division most of the season because of good pitching and timely hitting.
“We push each other to get better, and it shows on the field,” Wood said.
Wood is a winner. Look at his track record. In 2012, he played for the Pirates’ rookie affiliate which won the Gulf Coast League championship. In 2013, he played at low-A West Virginia and the Power made the South Atlantic League playoffs. Last season, he was promoted to advanced A Bradenton and helped the Marauders to the Florida State League playoffs.
That’s 3-for-3 and Wood is hoping the Curve can make it four in a row.
“We’re rolling along,” Wood said. “We’ve got good pitching and timely offense. Everyone contributes, one through nine. Mentally, we have it.”
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the 6-foot, 198-pound Wood is only 22 years old and has progressed up the baseball ladder quickly.
Drafted out of high school by the Oakland A’s in 2011, Wood elected not to sign then, and it turned out to be a smart move.
“It was the 37th round and I was very surprised,” he said. “I was just out of high school and it was exciting, but I decided to go the junior college course, and it was the right thing to do.”
The Canadian native enrolled at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. After one season at Blinn, Wood was drafted by the Pirates in the sixth round, becoming the first Canadian selected in 2012. Originally a pitcher with the Ontario Blue Jays amateur team, Wood made the switch to third base when he dominated a home run derby.
“When I was 17, we went to a tournament in New Mexico,” he recalled, “and the pitchers on the travel team were allowed to take batting practice. I guess I did well and, from then on, I started doing both (P and 3B).”
Wood pitched and played third in college, but became strictly a third baseman when he signed with the Pirates.
“I’ve focused on third base my whole professional career,” he said.
Going into the 2015 season with the Curve, Wood had a .265 batting average and 125 RBIs in 252 pro games, including a .271 mark in 113 starts at Bradenton last season. Curve manager Tom Prince also managed Wood at Bradenton and several of his Marauders teammates also are in Altoona this season.
“It’s been a nice progression with the same core group of guys and most of the coaches,” Wood said. “I’m happy to be in Double-A, but I’m not content. I’m still trying to get better and move up.
“The fans here are great, a definite step up from the Florida State League,” he noted. “The Eastern League gives you a chance to see different parts of the country, and it’s only six hours from home so my family has been able to see me play.”