Thanks again to Margie Kahn for her transcribing wizardry! If you missed my conversation with Tony Kemp, you can read it here. This interview with Kevin Smith took place before the spring training game on Monday, April 4th — later that day it was announced that Smith had made the Opening Day roster, where he has started each of the first 3 games at third base. Enjoy...
So, one of the things that had to be challenging in the Cactus League so far is kind of learning third base on the fly, and I know your comfort level is most at shortstop. So what has that been like, what’s been the easiest and hardest parts of playing third in this 3-1/2 weeks?
KS: Yeah, luckily coming in this year the Blue Jays had a spot open at 3rd and they wanted me to get more comfortable at 3rd, so I spent a lot of my off-season working over there, so coming here and pretty much extending on what I was already doing over there and the work I’d put in in the off-season.
Mainly just my first pitch, my pre-pitch setup, how I’m getting ready for balls, the angles I’m taking. At short you can be a little upright, you have more room to cover, you want to cover more ground at short. At third you have to be ready pretty quick. Balls will get on you. It’s more about what’s right in front of you. You can make a diving play to your right and left. So just getting those angles down and getting my mind right for how to attack certain balls, and really just getting reps on what balls look like off the bat, the spin, the angles you have to take.
So, if you were third baseman opening day Friday, what would you want fans to know, like, this I’ll probably do well and this is gonna be hardest for me right now?
KS: If I’m opening day third baseman, I’m a third baseman, so I’m gonna be ready to go. I’m putting in a bunch of work in spring training to be that guy, so if I’m out there, man, I’m a third baseman — I’m gonna expect myself to make every play. There’s nothing where I’m like I’m gonna give myself two months to make this or that. When I’m out there, I’m full tilt, so I’m working the last three weeks to make sure everything is routine, I can get to everything for my pitchers, my pitching staff, make the plays I’m supposed to make.
This is a big transition in your career. You’ve been traded, new organization. What has the condensed spring training been like? How has it affected you?
KS: I would say the weirdest part was not knowing that it would start. Three weeks, I feel like, in talking to other guys you can definitely get ready in three weeks. It’s just the fact that we didn’t know when the three weeks was gonna start, so you couldn’t come early, you couldn’t kind of lead yourself up in the off-season and kind of know exactly when you’re gonna have to get going, exactly when you’re gonna come down to camp.
Luckily I was in Nashville and pretty much prepped like it was gonna be a normal spring training, so we were ready to go two weeks before we even got the call. Then it was just about staying ready, knowing that the call was gonna come soon, and then obviously when the call happened and the season was on we didn’t have to change much. We were already ready, we were already prepared for it, so I’m thankful that we took that approach.
But that time right before spring training started where you’re trying to sort of simulate what camp would be like? How similar or different was it or did it feel to if you’d been here for those two weeks?
KS: I mean, we tried to not kill ourselves or go into some sort of mode where you’re hurting your body or not getting recovery. So it’s a fine line between being ready for spring but also knowing you’re not in spring training yet, right? So we knew it was gonna be short and we knew it was gonna be a grind when we got here, so trying to make sure you’re getting your work in and you’re ready for camp but also not putting yourself through a 6-, 8-, 12-week camp when you really don’t have to. So we got ready on time, we were ready to go mid-February, and then from then on it was just maintaining that and making sure any time now I can turn the jets on and be ready whenever they call or whenever it’s time to go.
If I can switch gears to the more human side, one of my theories is everybody has a story. Everybody, their childhood, their upbringing was in some way unusual, interesting, noteworthy, or something defined them. I’m just curious what that might be for you, what comes to mind when I say that?
KS: I grew up in Upstate New York, had an awesome family, had so much support from my mom and dad. I have two twin sisters. I pretty much spent my whole life outside playing sports, whether it was whiffle ball, baseball, football, whether we were playing tag or riding our bikes. Everything was outdoors and sports growing up. We had a bunch of kids in our neighborhood, so every weekend we were outside until we had to go home, and every night we were outside during the week after we got our homework done, hoping that dinner was late so we could stay out.
So that’s kinda how I was brought up and that’s kinda how my life went until high school, and then once I got into high school it was mostly baseball, basketball, and golf. I was always just a sports kid and played those through high school and then was lucky enough to go to Maryland and play baseball at Maryland. So ever since I was 12, 13 years old looking up at Derek Jeter and wanting to be in the big leagues, wanting to play infield, wanting to play shortstop like him, that’s kinda been the goal and what I’ve been working toward. So it’s been fun to see all the hard work paying off and staying the course, and obviously now here, being with these guys and being with the A’s and getting the opportunity on opening day is super special.
You mentioned Derek Jeter. Is your hitting style modeled in any way after him? Or is it modeled after anyone else?
KS: Yeah. Just everything that Jeter did. Obviously, when I was young Jeter was the ultimate role model, so my parents would only let me stay up late if it was watching Jeter, or only go on You Tube if it was watching Jeter documentaries or Jeter videos. Just mainly in the field and his presence and how he carried himself off the field and how people viewed him, how his teammates loved him. All those things were things I really looked up to with him. Not so much trying to emulate his swing or what he did on certain plays but just his overall demeanor and how he went about the game and how he was viewed by his teammates and his coaches and the fans.
All that stuff, I always looked up to him. That’s a great way to go about those things, you know. So that’s kinda what I took from him. As far as my swing and defense, it was just whoever was hot at the time, trying to understand why they were hot, what they changed, what’s going good for them, whether it was in the field or at the plate, just watching anybody and everybody who was good, whether it was 10 years or one year, and trying to figure out what I could take from them to put into my game. That’s kinda always how I viewed that.
Last question: I just know our readers like to feel like they know the players they’re watching. How would you describe your personality, your temperament?
KS: I think overall I’m pretty laid back. I’m super process and routine oriented, so my fiancee always makes fun of me for eating the same stuff for dinner and having the same routine every day. Once I find something I like and that works for me, I just kinda stick to it. I’ll spend time with my friends and family, keeping it low key, and getting my work done in the morning and hanging out with everyone I love in the afternoon. So overall, I just try to make it as simple as possible and do the things I enjoy as often as I can and have as much fun as I can.