Two years after graduating from the University of Richmond, Toronto Blue Jays draft pick Mike Smith walked to the bullpen to warm up for his start at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
``I could hear family and friends calling out, `Hi, Smitty,’ which was pretty neat,‘' he recalled of that July day in 2002.
It was the biggest stage in his abbreviated Major League career, and although he lasted five innings against the Red Sox and took the loss, it was the highlight of a 12-year professional career.
He pitched several seasons in AAA, the highest level of minor league baseball, and played in 15 professional leagues, including ones in Taiwan (2009, with a team called the Brother Elephants) and Italy (2012, with the Montepaschi Orioles Grosseto).
Smith, a star on the Needham Legion baseball team that reached the state finals in 1996, was also a three-sport standout at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, and played in several summer collegiate leagues before turning pro.
Named the Blue Jays top pitching prospect by Baseball America magazine in 2001, Smith still takes the mound, at age 42, for the EI Braves of the Boston Park League. He went 6-0 last season with an 0.97 earned run average and helped the Braves reach the playoff finals.
``It’s rare to see a former Major League pitcher in our league,‘' said Braves manager James Greeley. ``Mike has never lost his competitive edge, and he’s still impressive to watch. That’s pretty incredible.‘'
However, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Smith,\ has delayed coming back this season.
“I just love competition and the game of baseball, but I’m still deciding if I’m going to play this year or not,‘' Smith said, citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and the shortened Park League season.
He lives in Millis with his wife, Ashley, and is comptroller of GDI Services Inc., a commercial cleaning and janitorial services firm.
``Being an athlete and a pitcher who has faced some tight moments has given me confidence to reach my goals and to work under pressure and be productive,‘' said Smith, who joined the Brighton Braves of the Yawkey League of Greater Boston in 2013 after he retired as a professional.
He was that league’s Most Valuable Player in 2017 and a three-time league Pitcher of the Year.
Reflecting on his Fenway appearance, Smith said he was ``really focused on what I was doing. Looking back, it’s easier to relive it.‘'
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