OTTUMWA — June of 2018.
It was the start of Mitch Wood's freshman season on the Ottumwa High School baseball team. It was also the start of Wood's commitment to becoming an Iowa Hawkeye.
Two years and five months after verbally committing to join Rick Heller's squad in Iowa City, Wood made it official on Wednesday. With family and friends by his side, the Ottumwa senior inked his official national letter of intent with Iowa.
"It was pretty exciting that day (as a freshman) to receive an offer from a school like Iowa," Wood said. "I had been involved with the camps put on by the program when I was younger. I've been watching and rooting for the Iowa Hawkeyes my whole life.
"There were other schools that showed interest, but Iowa was the first one to extend an offer. That meant a lot. It all just kind of came together."
Wood was joined at the table by his father, Rick and his mother, Shelley. Older brother Chase, who went on to play college baseball himself after a stellar prep baseball career at Ottumwa, was one of several family members on hand for the signing.
"When I was younger, I remember going to his games all the time and saw him playing all the time," Wood said of his older brother. "I just wanted to follow in his direction. The hustle aspect and playing the game hard 100 percent every single pitch is the biggest thing I took away from watching him."
While his older brother was wrapping up his time at Ottumwa, Mitch Wood was just beginning his own baseball journey. The summer of 2016, a notable time for baseball in Ottumwa with the 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series coming to town, was also notable in the early development of Wood who returned to play for Ottumwa's team in that World Series after competing in Florida at Perfect Game Classic series.
Wood was named the tournament's MVPitcher of the 13U series after pitching 7 2/3 innings, including a start in a 3-2 championship game win. Wood finished the PG Classic series allowing just five hits on the mound over 7 2/3 innings, striking out four batters while recording a 0.913 ERA while catching 16 innings during the tournament, finished with eight hits at the plate.
"That was really the first time where I really figured out just how good I was," Wood recalled. "I got to test myself against some of the best players in the entire country. That was a great experience. I'm glad my family helped me be able to do that."
The experiences of 2016 are just part of Wood's baseball journey which has gone from competing in state tournaments for the Ottumwa American Little League program to competing at state for the Ottumwa American Legion baseball squad. One state tournament, however, still eludes Wood.
That would be the Iowa High School state baseball tournament. Wood gets one more chance this summer to help the Ottumwa Bulldogs journey to Principal Park in Des Moines, returning with fellow first-team all-district slugger Jesus Jamie and all-district pitcher Max Thomason for OHS after going through a COVID-shortened 11-11 season last summer.
Jaime (27) and Wood (24) led the Bulldogs in total hits, including all six home runs hit by the Bulldogs this season. Jaime led Ottumwa with five homers and 31 runs driven in while Wood, who normally batted right in from of Jaime, led OHS with 24 runs scored.
"We've got one of the best teams we've had in quite a while this season," Wood said of the upcoming 2021 Ottumwa High School baseball season. "I'm looking forward to making a run at a state title."