Alex Wood’s latest victory is something special for him
Alex Wood rolled up the sleeve of his gray T-shirt. Inscribed on the inside of his left biceps were two words: Second Chance.
Kyle Farmer, his Dodgers teammate and former roommate at the University of Georgia, has the identical phrase on his own biceps. So does another roommate, Brett DeLoach. They wear the ink as a tribute to their fourth roommate, Chance Veazey. They got the tattoos as freshmen eight years ago, when they were still reeling from an accident that left Veazey paralyzed from the waist down.
“When you go into a situation like that, you don’t know how to show what he means to us,” Wood said after throwing six innings of one-run baseball in a 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves. “That was how it played out for us.”
The words symbolized the opportunity before Veazey as he recovered from his accident. They also commemorated the bonds formed through their collective grief. Veazey remains an enduring presence in their lives: He hung out with Wood during the All-Star Game last month, and he teared up when Farmer made his memorable debut Sunday.
Veazey visited SunTrust Park on Thursday as the Dodgers (76-32) grinded out another series victory. The team has not dropped a series since the first week of June. Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer and scored three times. Corey Seager reached base four times. And Wood (13-1, 2.33 earned-run average) overcame a lack of sharpness to defeat his former club.
After the victory, Wood admitted he felt tired, especially after traveling from the West Coast. Manager Dave Roberts noted a slight dip in Wood’s fastball velocity. He planned to meet with Wood and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to discuss Wood’s fatigue.
“I don’t think it’s a health thing,” Roberts said. “It’s just to try to stay ahead of things, just to make sure he has the strength to be ready for the rest of the regular season.”
Wood has witnessed far more pressing adversity than this. His college career offered a course in how to grow through calamity.
In the fall of 2009, Farmer, Veazey and DeLoach roomed together in the freshman dorms at McWhorter Hall. Wood lived on the floor above. They leaned on each other during the vomit-inducing, early-morning workouts of Hell Week. Farmer and Veazey teamed in the middle infield, and they discovered Wood’s odd aversion to Styrofoam. “He would get mad — like, seriously, fight-you mad — if you messed with him about it,” Veazey said.
On the night of Oct. 28, 2009, Veazey was riding his motorized scooter when a car turned in front of him. He tried to stop, but the scooter slid on its side and collided with the car. An officer at the scene called Georgia coach David Perno, who rushed to the hospital and tried to comfort Veazey, who was shocked by the diagnosis.
The crash fractured Veazey’s vertebrae and damaged his spine. It was the first of two horrifying accidents in Perno’s tenure at Georgia. Two years later, Bulldogs outfielder Johnathan Taylor broke his neck diving for a ball. During these years, Perno leaned on players like Wood and Farmer to keep the program afloat.
“It’s overwhelming, the emotions, the ups and downs, all over the place,” Perno said. “That’s why our bond is so close. When you go through something like that with people, there’s a bond that is different. It’s different in a lot of ways.”
Veazey underwent surgery on his spine at a hospital in Athens, Ga. Then he was transferred to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, a hospital specializing in spinal-cord injury. As Veazey recovered, Wood, Farmer and DeLoach visited to show him how they had tattooed his name on their arms. Wood can’t remember the specific visit — he went to the hospital so often, the memories became jumbled.
As Wood recalled it, Veazey was cleared to visit the team midway through their freshman season. He moved back to campus the next fall. As sophomores, the four friends lived in a house off campus. In the den, they hung a quartet of deer heads over a trio of televisions, one hooked up to an XBox, another connected to a Nintendo 64. Posters plastered the walls.
“It was the spot where everybody came,” Veazey said. “We always had the pregames and the people over. Everybody felt like it was home base for us, as friends, and for the baseball team. There would be 40 of us over there.”
Wood left school after the Braves drafted him in 2012. The Dodgers took Farmer in the eighth round of the 2013 draft. Veazey graduated in the fall of 2013 with a degree in risk management and insurance. He moved back home to Tifton, Ga., where he runs a State Farm branch.
When Wood debuted for the Braves at Turner Field in 2013, Veazey was there. He estimates he calls Farmer three or four times a week. “Chance ties us all together, still,” Wood said.
After Wood made the All-Star team last month, he invited Veazey to join him at Marlins Park. Veazey spent a few days trouble-shooting the logistics so he could make the trip. He flew from Jacksonville to Miami late Sunday night, then attended the Home Run Derby with Wood the next night. Veazey mingled in the clubhouse with superstars like Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. He hung with Wood on the field as Yankees rookie Aaron Judge stole the show.
“He sent me a three-page text the next day about what it meant to him,” Wood said. His voice caught in his throat. “It’s hard to talk about sometimes . . . It was really amazing. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to have that to share with him.”
As Wood starred in the majors, Farmer was clubbing opposing pitchers for triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers brought him to the majors in late July, and in his first career at-bat, Farmer delivered a walk-off double against the Giants. Wood sprinted out of the dugout and tackled Farmer. Watching at home, Veazey stayed up until 3:30 a.m., waiting for Farmer to get back to his hotel so he could call.
“I cried a little, I laughed a little, I yelled a little,” Veazey said. “It was a combination of everything when I saw it happen.”
Veazey traveled three hours from Tifton to watch Thursday’s game. He got to see Wood pump his fist after inducing a crucial double play in the fifth, and he got to see Farmer pinch-hit in the seventh. After the victory, Veazey came inside the clubhouse to see his best friends, the ones wearing his name on their arms.
“It’s been cool getting to bring him along, and have him be a part of this, because it just feels like that’s how it was supposed to be,” Wood said. “And then now having Kyle here too — it’s hard to believe.”
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