Michael Burgess's lost weight and Destin Hood's lost title
This January, Destin Hood watched an epic celebration he could have been part of. The University of Alabama had won college football's national championship. He had several friends on the team, and if he had made a different choice 16 months ago they would have been teammates.
But Hood chose Nationals baseball over Crimson Tide football, and so Tuesday he hopped on a bus and rode to Jupiter, Fla. along and Michael Burgess, another Nationals minor league outfielder loaded with potential. Burgess grounded out in his only at-bat and Hood didn't even play, but both enjoyed spending one day looking first-hand at their future.
"It's a dream," Burgess said. "It's always been a dream to play here, to have a chance to play on the same field as a lot of big-time guys. It was pretty awesome, man. This is where I want to be. It's fun playing with all these guys, man. Maybe I'll be there in the future."
In July 2008, Hood signed a deal with the Nationals that paid him a $1.1 million bonus spread over five years. He had been available for the Nationals to pick in the draft's second round only because his commitment to play wide receiver for Nick Saban scared away everyone else.
Alabama's signing class of 2008 comprised the core of the title team --- star wide receiver Julio Jones was a high school teammate and acquaintance. Hood has always seen himself as a baseball player first, and he holds no regrets about missing out on the football victory.
"I knew where I wanted to be," Hood said. "If I had second chance to do it, I'd do the same thing I did."
Hood spent part of last spring, when he was 18, in major league camp. His start in accelerated camp this year is a testament to Jim Bowden's ostentation, not a harbinger that Hood's ability has slipped. Last year, Hood murdered the ball in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .330 with a 1.001 OPS in 98 plate appearances. He had a tough adjustment to Class A Vermont, compiling a .635 OPS in 159 plate appearances. Baseball Prospectus rated him the 12th best prospect in the Nationals system.
The magazine rated Burgess, 20, No. 6 in the Nationals system. He struck out 135 times in 545 plate appearances playing all of last year at Class A Potomac. He wants to cut down on those strikeouts, which would help raise his .235 batting average. Asked what he wants to accomplish, he said, "Swinging at good pitches."
Burgess hopes his improved condition, and slimmer figure, will make him a better player this year. Burgess dropped from 230 pounds to 215 pounds this winter. He ran more and changed his diet, swapping fast food for salads, grilled chicken, and pasta. His old favorite was Wendy's. "The No. 2," he said.
Burgess decided to cut weight on his own. "After my first full season, that was a judgment I had to make myself, and for the club," Burgess said. "Like a mutual deal. I feel a lot stronger, feel a lot quicker." He still hasn't totally ruled out Wendy's.
"Every once in a while," Burgess said. "You gotta have it sometimes."
March 16, 2010; 5:54 PM ET
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