In 2002, shortly after being drafted by the Red Sox, 21-year-old Chris Smith got into a severe ATV accident that took away most of his first professional season with the Lowell Spinners. A few months before, he was celebrating setting the UC Riverside season strikeout record (127), and now his progression into the majors had come to a screeching halt. He was lucky enough to get out of with his life, never mind the ability to keep on pitching.
If you type “Chris Smith” into Baseball-Reference there are three players with the same name; two are active, right-handed relievers. Ours, hailing from Hesperia, CA, was a six-foot righty with a 5.09 ERA in 67.2 innings of big-league relief before the A’s brought him up last season. He hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2010. On paper, he’s not memorable. The only thing that stands out is that Smith has never stopped fighting to play baseball, but that’s a fact that deserves back-pats more than the chance to be a part of a major league starting rotation.
When Jharel Cotton fell plague to injury, the A’s called Smith back up from the Sounds on July 8th. Not as a reliever, as a starter. Chris Smith, the guy who couldn’t seem to catch a real big-league break, made history the history books: he became the oldest player to make his first major league career start in 117 years of A’s history, at the age of 36.
He couldn’t believe it. How could you? What were the chances? On the A’s, anything is possible!
Smith has always had a youthful demeanor, unable to contain his excitement when he was first called up for a relief outing for the 2008 Red Sox. Nine years later, he still looks like a big kid being interviewed after his first two starts for the A’s (2.77 ERA in 13 IP). His wife works to provide for the family so he can live his baseball dream and be a “stay-at-home-dad” to his kids. He’s got exactly what you’d want to see in a player, personality-wise — drive, perseverance, passion for the game, light-hearted — he was just lost in the throngs of the minors for a very, very long time.
In 2016 Smith gave up the apartment life he’d been living while spending 12 seasons primarily in the minors. He brought his brand-new 33-foot trailer with him so he could live at a Nashville campground for the season. The trailer was a fully equipped living space, and he sometimes even cooked for eager teammates after long games. Nothing better than freshly-grilled steaks, Smith-made peach cobbler, and burning some broken bats in a campfire!
Today, the guy who struggled to keep a relief position in the majors is making his third career start. He hasn’t collected a win yet, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. His first start, he exited after the 6th with the game at a 3-3 tie, which the A’s ended up winning. In his second game, he pitched seven innings and was relieved with the A’s up by one. The bullpen blew this one while trying to get the very last out of the game, but you wouldn’t know it by watching Smith’s postgame interview.
Chris Smith postgame reaction pic.twitter.com/zoaNKTwgnV— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 19, 2017
If you need something to cling to while you watch the remaining half of this 2017 A’s season, here’s a feel-good story for the ages.