Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Baseball has taken Jake Smith all over the country and now has him pitching for his hometown team.
A North Augusta product, Smith pitched for the CSRA Crusaders – the homeschool baseball team – during his prep days. He went on to Darton College and Campbell University for college, but always came back to Lake Olmstead Stadium in the summer. Now, he’s a relief pitcher for the Augusta GreenJackets.
“I went to Darton College my freshman year and came back for the summer needing a job,” he said. “My high school coach (Augie Rodriguez) asked me if I wanted to come learn about baseball. So, I got on the (GreenJackets) grounds crew as an unpaid assistant. At that time, it was Rodriguez and Zach Baker doing it all. Zach was the head groundskeeper and Augie was his assistant. I helped them out because it’s tough to run a field with just two people.”
Smith was given the opportunity to throw for the GreenJackets pitching coach Steve Kline and was offered a contract. He didn’t sign and continued his college career at Campbell. During the summers, Smith played in the Coastal Plains League for the Florence Red Wolves and in the Northwoods League in Minnesota.
“Right before I left for St. Cloud in June 2011, I threw a bullpen for the Giants head guys and they ended up drafting me,” Smith said. “In 2013, I played in an extended spring training and went to Keizer in the Northwest League and pitched pretty well up there. From there, I came back for spring training, just trying to make the club, and they told me a couple days before the season that I was coming to Augusta.”
Now that Smith is playing in front of friends and family every day, he’s able to enjoy his Minor League experience a little bit more.
“It’s awesome, I can be at home and see everybody,” he said. “I can have the experience of playing in my hometown, which not a lot of people get to do.
“It’s been kind of a weird journey throughout the Minor Leagues, sometimes, going to a lot of towns that nobody knows. I was fortunate to end up here. I just try to enjoy it on a daily basis. I wake up every day trying to get better in a comfortable setting. I mean, I’m at home, so it can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I just wake up every day and try to get better. I know I can do it here at home, I’ve done it before,” she added.
Smith, a relief pitcher for the GreenJackets, has allowed just one unearned run in more than 10 innings pitched. The three- pitch specialist is still working to become a more polished product.
“I need to work on fastball command, getting ahead of hitters and getting more ground balls,” he said. “I’ve had a few more flyouts than I’d like here, which is just me overthrowing to get the ball in the zone. They put it in the air, it’s good for them, so I want them to put it on the ground. I have a fastball, a curveball and a change-up. My fastball, it’s all right. I just need to throw more strikes with it. My breaking ball is my out pitch and my change up is one I throw to a lot of lefties.”
The nature of Minor League Baseball is to move up in the organization, to make it to the big leagues. While that is Smith’s goal, he’s satisfied with pitching for Augusta, for the moment.
“I’ll do whatever they tell me as an organization,” he said. “If I could have it the way I want, I’d be a number one starter or a closer. Those are two hard places to get to; for now, I’m good with being a reliever. I just like going out there and competing on a daily basis.”
The GreenJackets have struck a deal with the City of North Augusta to relocate across the river, which is something Smith supports as a North Augustan.
“I hope I’m not around for it (as a member of the GreenJackets),” he said. “I think it would be awesome, the place that they have picked out for the stadium is unbelievable. I think it’s one of the best places in the CSRA, personally. ”
During the first few weeks of the season, Smith has received messages and calls from a number of community members.
“We get some support here, we don’t get a ton of fans – I’d like to see a lot more,” he said. “I’ve had people reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter or over the phone, I don’t know who they are but they message me and give support. It’s nice to know people do care.”
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for The North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.