MR. RIGHT: SEAN SMITH
MR. RIGHT: SEAN SMITH
By Teryl Warren
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.” – Jackie Robinson
In cities and suburbs all across the United States, fans of America’s game are getting the peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack ready. In a few short weeks, the opening pitch will be thrown and another exciting season will be upon us.
There is probably no one who is anticipating the return of baseball more than Sean Smith, because his return to the diamond will mark the end of one journey, and the beginning of another one.
“I was gonna retire from baseball until my knee was blown out,” Sean Smith told me. “But with everything that’s happened, I realized that maybe it’s not time for me to be done.”
The “everything” that Sean is talking about is the national media storm that swelled when, after hitting a home run and tearing his patella in the process of running to first base, Smith hobbled his way around the bases and helped lead his team to a historic playoff victory.
Such heroics are the things every athlete dreams of. Such injuries are every athlete’s worst nightmare.
Either can be a game-changer – and such was the case for Sean Smith. But not in the way you think.
“Hitting a home run is the coolest thing you can do, and to do it in a playoff game in front of a record-setting crowd is like a dream,” he shared. “I knew my leg was blown as soon as it happened. But I go hard when I play. When I was going around the bases, I just tried to keep my leg from jiggling. I focused on getting to home plate. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win.”
Later that night, Sean made his first appearance on ESPN as his “Hop Seen Around the World” garnered the #1 spot on Sports Center’s Top-10 Plays.
Interviews on shows like Good Morning America followed. Fox Sports Live bestowed him with “Best Person in Sports” honors, and on January 25, he was presented with the Ron Santo Inspiration Award by the Pitch and Hit Club.
“Ron Santo was known just as much for being a good teammate and a good person as he was for being a great player, so it’s an honor to receive an award named after him.”
But despite his current wave of popularity, life for Sean Smith has been far from a field of dreams. Fifteen years prior to joining his current squad – York, Pennsylvania’s Minor League team the York Revolution – Smith was drafted and selected in the 15th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He has spent his entire professional career in the Minor Leagues, and while they only play 20 fewer games than the Boys of Summer in the Big Leagues, their experiences, as ball players, are literally worlds apart.
For starters, Minor League teams don’t play on television – which makes the media attention Sean has garnered nothing short of miraculous. It’s no surprise that Minor League players earn a fraction of the minimum salaries that Major League players earn, and the prospects that await Minor League players once their careers are over pale in comparison to the often lucrative brand endorsement deals, scouting, coaching, front office and commentating opportunities many Big League players enjoy after they retire.
But there’s one thing every player who puts on a glove and steps onto a diamond has in common: a pure love of the game.
“Baseball relates to everybody in the right way. It brings people together, and I love that,” he said. “I know it’s my job, but it’s never felt like a job. The game has given me joy since I was a kid, and I thank God that he’s allowed me to hold on to that joy.”
Sean credits the late, great Jackie Robinson as being the biggest influence on him and his personal inspiration for bringing his “A game” to every game. He even named his son Robinson in tribute to #42. Though he expects to fully recover from his injury and return to his team, soon, Sean is already clear about what he’ll do once his playing days are over: he’s going to work to raise awareness about the legacy of Robinson and foster a love of the game among inner-city youth.
“Baseball belongs to everybody, but fewer than 5% of Big League players are African American,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole life in baseball. I love it, and I plan to help keep baseball alive.”
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