Earlier in his minor league baseball career, outfielder Destin Hood may have been his own toughest opponent, which is saying a lot.
An All-USA Today baseball player in 2008 when he batted .485 with eight home runs and 17 stolen bases as a senior at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., Hood was signed by Alabama and Nick Saban to play football.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well,” said Hood, who in his first year with the New Orleans Zephyrs appears on his way to his best season. “I tried to be perfect.”
The Zephyrs begin a big four-game American South Division series Thursday against Memphis at the same time first-place Round Rock plays at Nashville in another division battle. That Hood enters this series batting .309 and is second in the Pacific Coast League in home runs, with six, and RBIs, with 21, is the result of being much more comfortable, he said.
“I haven’t changed anything mechanically,” he said. “But when I take a hard cut at a pitch and miss badly, I’m OK with myself. I’m in a place now that’s comfortable all around.”
That has been evident the past two series. In his past nine games, his batting average has risen from .278 as he went 9-of-28 (.321) combined from the final game against Omaha, and including the home series against Iowa and three games at Nashville. Against Iowa and Nashville, he combined to hit four home runs and drive in 13 runs.
Although it’s early yet, that’s a welcome addition for a team that was last in the PCL with 68 home runs last season, playing in a ballpark that makes hitters earn every one they hit.
“I’m getting consistent at-bats, and now I’m hitting in the fourth spot more consistently,” he said. “(Hitting coach Paul) Phillips is making sure I compete when I don’t have a favorable (pitching) count. And, when I get favorable counts, I make sure I put my ‘A’ swing on the ball all the time.”
An outfielder with power and speed, Hood was seen as a future 30-30 player, one who would average 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases per season. And, that was the source of his anxiety.
“For someone with the kind of talent I have, that was the standard,” he said. “I wanted to prove things to everybody.”
Hood is with his fourth organization after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of last season. However, coming to the Zephyrs put him in touch with two of his most trusted and encouraging mentors, he said.
Joe Dillon was Hood’s manager in 2014 at Syracuse, the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate, and now is the Marlins’ minor league hitting instructor. Gary Cathcart was in the Washington organization from 2010-15 and now is Miami’s outfield and baserunning coordinator.
“(Dillon) told me ‘You’re just scratching the surface of your potential,’ ” said Hood, who was drafted in the second round by Washington in 2008. “He said, ‘Focus on just getting better as a baseball player and making sure you’re doing the right work every day. The rest will take care of itself.’
“That’s when I took hold of not trying to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bags but just going in and doing the same work every single day.”
With the Zephyrs, he said he’s with a team that works hard every day and has great chemistry in part because of it. Hood seems to have become infectious among them.
He hit home runs in each of the first two games against Iowa, and the Zephyrs won both, giving them a three-game winning streak. After the Z’s lost the final two games agianst Iowa, Hood powered them to a victory in the first game at Nashville on Saturday by hitting a three-run homer among his four RBIs. He hit a two-out, solo shot in the 10th inning Monday as the Z’s won their third consecutive game at Nashville.
“He is a very talented ball player, and we have a plan for him, as we do all of our hitters,” Zephyrs manager Arnie Beyeler said. “But he gives us a lot of power in the middle of our lineup, and when you get a lot of production in that spot in particular, that can be special.”
Hood may have been special in football. At St. Paul’s Episcopal, where he played receiver and defensive back, he caught 56 passes for 995 yards as a senior in helping it win the Class 5A state title. He committed to Alabama before the season began and signed in February.
“When things got tough, I used to think about whether I should have gone to Alabama and played football and baseball there,” he said. “But I spoke with my dad, and my dream had always been in baseball.”
Playing with the Zephyrs also means he is 2 hours, 45 minutes drive from his parents’ home in Mobile. That has added to his comfort, too, he said.
“At the last homestand, my godparents were there, my immediate family, friends,” he said. “And, when I get an off day, I can drive there. That has never happened in my career.”