Manager Joe Maddon had flashbacks on Monday afternoon seeing ex-Cub Travis Wood hanging out in the food room inside Wrigley Field's underground clubhouse.
"The weird thing about that is it's like he belongs here," Maddon said. "It's not even weird. There's nothing awkward about it. That's not normal. When a guy from another team walks into your locker room — even though he may have been with you in the past — it's still awkward. But it's not with him.
"Travis walked in, it's like: 'OK, how do you feel for today?'"
Wood — who made 77 relief appearances last season — was not available to face the Milwaukee Brewers or participate in any Maddon experiments. But an off-day for the Kansas City Royals allowed Wood, pitcher Jason Hammel and outfielder Jorge Soler to put on gold-trimmed Cubs jerseys and get their championship rings during a pregame ceremony. Even though the Royals will be on the South Side next week playing the White Sox.
"We could've waited until then," Wood said. "Hats off to this organization for being able to put the effort in and make it work out to where we could have it here. It's pretty special."
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A clubhouse creature of habit, Wood did anything to help the team win, going from All-Star starter to trusted lefty reliever, playing five innings in left field last season and hitting five home runs in a Cubs uniform. Always succinct in his answers to the media, Wood showed a different side around teammates — just look at the video-board montage that showed him riding shirtless in the championship parade through the streets of Chicago.
"His personality really draws you in," Maddon said. "He is a wonderful teammate. He is easy to be with. He's so supportive of everybody around him. He's got all those attributes that you're looking for within a group setting. I guess the timeframe hasn't been that long that we haven't seen him here, so it was very easy to say hello to him."
Wearing jeans and cowboy boots, Wood checked out the new bullpen beneath the bleachers and chatted with old teammates in the outfield during batting practice. But to really see how much has changed around this team, just check out the lineup from his Cubs debut on May 6, 2012, a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in the middle of a 101-loss season that led to the Kris Bryant draft pick:
David DeJesus, RF
Tony Campana, CF
Starlin Castro, SS
Bryan LaHair, 1B
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Joe Mather, 3B
Darwin Barney, 2B
Welington Castillo, C
The Cubs stayed in contact with Wood's agent throughout the offseason but decided to conserve resources for the trade deadline and create opportunities for younger relievers to emerge. By the middle of February, the 2015 World Series champs finalized a two-year, $12 million contract with a player who will always be remembered as part of the Cubs.
"It was a long journey," Wood said. "To still be around to see the payoff is something I'll cherish."