Monday, March 1, 2010
#747) JOE SMITH
Joe Smith was selected by the New York Mets in the third round of the free agent draft on June 6, 2006. The side-arming right-hander was first assigned to the NY-Penn League, Brooklyn Cyclones team. He excelled there and became noted for his "stone-cold stare" as he faced opposing batters working as the team's closer. "My head coach at Wright State, Rob Cooper worked really hard at the mental aspect of the game," said Smith. "I can't tell you how much he taught me about the mental game." His first season of professional baseball ended in Double-A Binghamton and earned him a spring training invite to major league camp in 2007. A strong showing there allowed him to continue his fast track to the major leagues. Less than a year after being drafted, Joe would make his major league debut on Opening Day facing the Cardinals. Throwing a third of an inning in St. Louis on April 1, 2007.
Smith enjoyed some initial success with the Mets. He did not allow his first major league run until May 12th, but the fatigue of pitching at the big league level seemed to have taken it's toll. Joe's fastball which had been clocked at 90 mph was now in the 86-87 mph range. "You can tell he is not the same Joe Smith that he was earlier in the year." General Manager, Omar Minaya would assess. The rookie was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on July 26th. "I know I was going through some struggles, obviously, but I didn't think I was going to be sent down." Smith would say. The Mets brought him back as the rosters expanded in September and he would pitch in nine games recording a 3.46 ERA.
The avid fisherman brought his poles and tackle with him when he returned to Florida for spring training in 2008. Joe seemed much more relaxed in his approach to making the major league roster. "Yeah, If anything, I'll go to Okeechobee." Smith commented, "Growing up in Ohio, we didn't do any of that going out on a boat stuff, like all the way out in the ocean." His confidence was rewarded when he made the roster to start the new season. Another sign of his greater comfort in New York was an absence of parking tickets which had plagued him during his rookie campaign. Smith had paid over $400.00 in fines. "This year," Joe said, "I made arrangements for parking." He made adjustments on the mound too. "He looks similar to last year, but different." Mets' manager, Willie Randolph would observe. "He's whipping the ball better and that's key for him."
Proving himself a major league pitcher might not totally safeguard him from a brief return to the minors. In May of 2008, the team found themselves in need of a spot starter for a difficult part of the schedule. Joe was the pitcher on the team that had minor league options and appeared on the way to Triple-A in the necessary roster move. "If he goes down, it's a number thing," Billy Wagner defended, "Does he deserve to get sent down? No. With a bullpen like ours, you need arms and he's been throwing the ball fantastic." Smith had his own plan to stay, "I'm just trying to make the decision hard for them. That's all I can do." The Mets would keep the reliever on the roster and he would finish the season in New York. While there he gained significant cult popularity with the fan base. Even inspiring some to song. During the following winter he would be involved in a twelve player - three team deal that brought J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed to the Mets and sent Smith to the Cleveland Indians on December 11, 2008.
Joe Smith signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training facility in Arizona on April 6, 2009.