Getting to know Christopher Smith
By: Nick Scott
Hello Bronx Bomber Blog! Recently we have had the privilege of interviewing several players in the Yankees system and today we will be featuring minor league pitcher Christopher Smith. Smith has quite an extraordinary story in overcoming hardship as he has rebounded from being released from an independent league after throwing only one inning. He eventually signed a $0 contract after he spent some time in an Australian league in which he set the strikeouts in a game record at 15. His success there has resulted in him playing in the Yankee minor league system and he enjoyed himself a solid season there in ’14. Here is the transcript from our interview:
1. Question: “What was it like converting from an outfielder to a pitcher?”
Smith: “Well in college (at Kentucky Wesleyan College) I actually played a position all four years which included two years at shortstop and two years in centerfield. My senior year our team was in desperate need of a closer so that's when the coaching staff and I decided to see how I would be able to handle the closer role coming from centerfield each game. Many of the times I pitched in college came right after me running in from centerfield or after an at bat from the inning before. However, in college I would have considered myself more of a thrower than a pitcher. Making the true transition came once I left college and hit independent ball to become a pitcher only. The number one thing I needed coming out of college was to face hitters and gain some experience on the mound. Although, I found out quickly that independent baseball is not for developing players and I was released after throwing just one inning. My experience came later in my independent baseball career.
I've always loved playing the field and making the transition to a pitcher was tough because I enjoyed being on the field each game. One of the best feelings in baseball is hitting a homerun and jogging around those bases, but now I have found a new love for striking out hitters or throwing perfect innings. I actually got to play an inning in centerfield whenever I played Independent ball in our last game of the year whenever we had already been eliminated from playoffs, and that was a real joy. (I actually recorded an out and kept a runner from tagging up from third on a fly ball haha).”
2. Question: “What was it like signing a contract for $0 and earning very little to live off of on a weekly basis?”
Smith: “To be honest it was a complete shock. I remember calling my parents and telling them the situation and they told me to stick with it and everything will work out. So that's what I decided to do and I finally was given an opportunity. My time in that league was very valuable and I learned a lot about myself as a person and a pitcher. Conditions were pretty tough in that league, but once you break it all down you're still playing baseball and that in itself keeps your hopes and dreams alive. I think back to that moment in my career often and it's just another thing that drives me to continue the journey and to try and fulfill that ultimate goal of reaching the major leagues. I have a lot of respect for players that play in the Pecos league and I will always be grateful for the team that gave me my first real opportunity and the experience I needed.”
3. Question: “Can you briefly describe your experience playing ball in Australia?”
Smith: “Describing it briefly is very difficult because it was one of the best experiences of my life. The people I encountered out in Australia were an absolute pleasure to be around and I was very fortunate to have been surrounded by such great people. Baseball in Australia was a great time and my teammates and I developed a great relationship on and off the field. They were one of the best group of players I've played with and to this day I still stay in contact with many of them. One of the highlights of my playing career came in Australia whenever I broke the ABL strikeout record with 15 in a game while my family and girlfriend were in attendance. The success I had in Australia inevitably led me to playing with the Yankees and for that I am thankful for the opportunity the Brisbane Bandits gave me. Without the experiences in Australia I wouldn't be where I am today.”
4. Question: “What is your mentality as a pitcher? Miss bats? Pitch to contact? Etc.”
Smith: “On the mound I mostly try to be aggressive in the zone and attack with each one of my pitches. Working ahead is key for any pitcher and with the help of my pitching coaches throughout the years I've learned working ahead and staying ahead will lead to the most success. Missing bats is a key component as well, but in order to achieve that you have to be able to show you can throw strikes. The main thing I pride myself in doing each and every time I toe that rubber is to compete. Focusing on the next pitch and executing each pitch with conviction is the main goal every outing for me.”
5. Question: “What pitches do you throw?”
Smith: “I throw a four seam fastball, a slider, a curve, and a changeup.”
6. Question: “Has the organization told you what role or level they expect you to play at this year?”
Smith: “I am reporting to spring training this year in which I will be competing for a spot wherever the Yankees feel I will best contribute to the organization. I look forward to any and every opportunity the Yankees give me and I hope to pitch for this historical organization at the big league level one day.”
7. Question: “Can you briefly describe life in the minor leagues?”
Smith: “Playing professional baseball is something I've wanted to do my entire life, and to be given this opportunity is a dream come true. The minor leagues has its challenges, but to be able to suit up each and every day for the greatest organization in baseball is an absolute blast. You develop a camaraderie and relationship with your teammates that make the season very fulfilling. Those individuals you get to share the field with for the spring and summer are your brothers and some become lifelong friends. The bus rides and staying overnight in hotels are just a small part of the minor leagues, but I also think that is something that brings each team together in the sense that every single one of us are going through the same process together. Life in the minor leagues is what you make of it, and let’s just say I love being able to lace up my cleats as my job.”
8. Question: “Did you have a favorite baseball team growing up?”
Smith: “I grew up a Cubs fan because here in Louisville, Kentucky you mainly get two teams you can watch on a regular basis and that were either the Cubs or the Reds. I chose the Cubs because of their history and my father was also a lifelong Cubs fan. I did always tell people while I was playing Independent baseball that whichever team gave me a chance and signed me at the affiliated level would be my new favorite team. So the Yankees are number one in my book.”
9. Question: “What is it like being part of the Yankee organization?”
Smith: “It's a pleasure playing for the Yankees. They do a great job of taking care of their players from top to bottom. The coaching staff and coordinators have been great to work with and have always looked out for my best interest. The facilities are top notch and I'm just extremely grateful to be able to say I'm in the New York Yankee organization. It's a worldwide known brand and to be part of this storied franchise is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm trying to make the most of it and enjoy each and every day I'm able to call myself a Yankee.”
I have to say as an ex player and baseball fan this truly was the most enjoyable interview I’ve conducted. Smith was a very down to earth guy throughout the whole interview process and we at Bronx Bomber Blog were very happy to talk him and learn about his amazing story.
I was particularly surprised by his answer on the minor league experience. I read quite an outspoken article by Dirk Hayhurst who described life in the minor leagues as ‘harsh.’ It’s good to see Smith has a positive view on it and is grateful to be playing the sport he loves for a living.
Plenty out there would love to be playing baseball for a living so it’s great that Smith doesn’t complain and rather enjoys the experience. I also found the bit about the time in Australia to be fascinating. I would have been uncomfortable out of my mind, but he went out there and gave it all for what he loves to do.
In conclusion I can’t say enough how gracious we are that Chris gave us his time in answering our long questions in so much detail. To put it in more easily understandable words, Chris is a good dude.
So to him we wish the best of luck and a quick, successful rise to the Bronx, which might not be too far off considering how he pitched last season. Stay tuned for more Yankees news, opinions, and interviews here at Bronx Bomber Blog.
Follow the Yankee prospect himself, Chris Smith, on twitter @C_Smitty5!
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