The Fresno Grizzlies have all but locked up their Pacific Northern Division title, but there’s another Fresnan in the Pacific Coast League vying for his own division crown.
Round Rock first-year manager Jason Wood is leading his club to a potential American Southern Division championship, with the Express holding a 5-game lead on the second-place Memphis Redbirds entering Friday.
As “Woody” – as his players and fellow coaches know him – walks onto the field at Chukchansi Park and the sky blends from a light blue into deep hues of purple and orange, nostalgia takes over.
“Being here takes me back to high school, when I was a young kid in the Valley in the summertime,” he said. “Sweating, working out in the batting cage and trying to get better daily. The nights that go on here are outstanding. The weather here is great.”
To manage three years in A-ball, a year in Double-A, and now in Triple-A. I’m enjoying every minute of it. I love being in the game. I think there’s a lot more to be done in the game for myself.
Round Rock manager Jason Wood, who grew up in Fresno
The McLane High graduate still lives in Fresno in the offseason but has hardly gotten the opportunity to enjoy the tranquil summer nights since starting his professional baseball career.
“It’s something that has never gone away,” Wood said. “As long as I’ve been away during the summertime, when I come back here, it takes me to a place where I really enjoyed it and where it all started.”
After playing for longtime Highlanders coach Merv Carter and then at Fresno City and finally Fresno State under Bob Bennett, Wood has spent 24 years in pro baseball.
He was in the minors for seven seasons before making his major league debut in 1998 with the Oakland A’s. In all, Wood played 17 seasons as a pro, including 13 at the Triple-A level and all or part of five seasons in the big leagues.
He has spent the past seven as a coach or manager. In late 2008, Wood got his first assignment as the hitting coach for the Rangers organization at Class-A Bakersfield. He got his first gig as a manager in 2011 at Class-A Myrtle Beach, where he stayed three seasons before moving up to Double-A Frisco last season. This season is his first managing at the Triple-A level, and he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
24 number of years Jason Wood has spent professionally in the game of baseball; 17 as a player and seven as a coach
“I loved the game and I wanted to stay in the game and I wanted to give back to this game,” Wood said. “There were so many great things that I learned, and to be able to make a living out of it is something that has been nice.”
As he’s moved up the coaching ranks, Wood has gotten an outpouring of support from people he’s met through the game.
Earlier this week, Carter watched Wood manage against the Sacramento River Cats at Raley Field. On Friday, Bennett was expected to be at Chukchansi Park.
“It’s been tremendous,” Wood said. “So many people who I’ve grown up with, played Little League and Babe Ruth with, and high school baseball and college baseball with, and my coaches, have followed my career. So to be able to come back here and manage in front of them is something pretty special.”
He has no plans of stopping anytime soon, hoping to some day return to the big leagues as a manager.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”