As a probable first-round pick in the Major League Baseball Draft this June, one would think that junior Brett Smith could have his own herd of admirers following him around campus. But Smith goes from class to class like any other student and most are completely unaware of what he has contributed not only to UCI baseball, but to UCI Athletics as a whole.
Smith’s high school statistics were incredible. He had a 7-1 record his senior year with a minuscule 1.68 ERA while recording 102 strikeouts in 90 innings of work. His batting statistics were just as impressive, batting .458 with five home runs and 25 RBIs. These stats, compounded with multiple Player of the Year awards in city, area, section and state, made him one of the most sought after recruits in his graduating class.
‘We felt that we stole one getting Brett in our first recruiting class. I mean he was definitely one of our main guys and a very legitimate professional prospect,’ said Head Coach John Savage.
His stellar performance in high school led to Smith being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 21st round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft at the tender age of 17.
‘I felt like I was on top of the world,’ Smith said.
And who wouldn’t? But Smith made the mature decision and went to college.
‘I’m definitely happy with the route I’ve taken,’ he said. ‘Things couldn’t have worked out better for me.’
A hot college recruit, Smith had offers from college baseball heavyweights such as Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and USC. His decision to join the newly reformed Anteater squad was purely based on the fact that ‘[Savage] was just too good of a pitching coach for me to pass up.’
The decision turned out to be a great one. Smith has put
up impressive numbers on
the mound for UCI, recording a 1.77 ERA and striking out 73 batters in his 71 innings of work this season.
But there’s a lot to Smith’s greatness that cannot be written on paper. When Smith is on the mound, there is an aura of invincibility he gives off that makes Savage feel calm. ‘The guy is tough in tougher situations,’ Savage said. ‘He leads by example on and off the field.’
Smith explained that he looks at the game of baseball in a completely different way than he did when he was drafted by the Diamondbacks three years ago. Through Savage, he has learned more about the mentality of pitching and how to be more intimidating to batters on the mound.
Being such a force on the mound, Smith obviously has his fair share of rivals. The one that gets the most hype of course is with Long Beach State star hurler Jered Weaver.
‘There is a definite rivalry,’ Smith said with a smirk. ‘It’s definitely all it’s built up to be. I mean I’m sure he checks my stats just as often as I check his.’
Weaver is expected to be the first overall pick in the Major League Draft this year and many think that Smith’s career has been in his shadow. But Smith takes the rivalry in a totally different light.
When asked if he feels like he has been in Weaver’s shadow his entire collegiate career, Smith explained, ‘No, I don’t see it that way at all. The guy is unbelievably talented. I’m not going to be able to do all the things he does but it’s good to reach for it,’ Smith said.
There is no doubt that Smith has raw natural talent. This was proven by being drafted as a 17-year-old fresh out of high school. But with his new perception of the game of baseball and his newly formed grasp of the mental part of pitching, it would seem that Smith is now ready for big league ball.
‘Coach [Savage] has taught me so many little things that help me keep focused,’ Smith said. ‘Simple things like ‘just hit the glove’ or ‘take every inning the same no matter what the situation.’ When these things really sank into my head, I mean they really do work.’
With Smith being a potential first round pick in the June draft, Savage, along with the rest of the Anteater squad, is fully aware that Smith may not be in the locker room with them next year.
‘Of course we’d love to have him back for another year,’ Savage said. ‘But we want what’s best for Brett and his family.’
So will we see Smith taking the mound at Anteater Ballpark come opening day of 2005?
‘I’m definitely ready to get drafted,’ said a confident Smith. ‘I mean I couldn’t shut down the possibility of coming back [to UCI] for another year. I’d consider it as a bonus because I love it here but I’m definitely ready.’
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