Jeff Smith gets chance to don uniform for team that drafted him
By J. Scott Butherus
Special to MLB.com |
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jeff Smith has dreamed about reaching the Major Leagues since he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1995.
"I've been a Minnesota Twin for almost half my life," Smith said. "I bleed Minnesota Twins."
Over two decades after being drafted, Smith, 42, will walk out onto the field this season in a big league uniform. Granted, it won't be the way he first envisioned it, but after falling just short as a player he is ready to make his big league debut in another capacity. Smith will be a member of the Twins' Major League staff this season.
"It's been a long journey," Smith said. "But I wouldn't change it for the world."
After being selected in the 20th round of the 1995 Draft out of Stetson University, Smith was part of a crop of young Minor Leaguers in the Twins' organization that included David Ortiz, Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, and A.J. Pierzynski. That group ended up being the nucleus of a team that reached the postseason six times between 2002 and 2010.
Smith, a catcher, never got his chance to join them. He made it all the way to Triple-A before suffering a series of knee injuries. In 658 Minor League games, Smith batted .282 with 44 home runs and 285 RBIs. He never did get to make his Major League debut.
When the injuries put an end to his playing career, Smith began his coaching career with the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2005. After a season in Beloit, Wis., Smith was promoted to manager of the Fort Myers Miracle, where he won the Florida State League Manager of the Year award in 2009. He was promoted to the team's Double-A affiliate in New Britain for the next five seasons before returning to the Miracle in 2015 for two seasons.
Smith, who was also a finalist for the head coaching position at his alma mater, Stetson, this winter, was promoted to the Twins' first-base coaching job this spring.
"It was a combination of the fit -- even though he wasn't your prototypical first-base coach -- and his ability to help out with the catching duties that I thought would make him valuable," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I've always been impressed from my time in player development, when I went to his clubs, with his preparation and his thoughtfulness. He certainly improved tremendously in his ability to teach and coach, and to handle personalities."
As well as being what Molitor referred to as a "good soldier" for the organization, Smith brings a familiarity with many of the younger players in the clubhouse, having coached many of them at some point in their Minor League careers.
"I've had a lot of these guys at multiple stages in their career whether it was Beloit, Fort Myers, in the instructional leagues or from when I go down to the Dominican," Smith said. "I think the big thing is relationships and not just on the field. I know about their families and who they are as a person. I'll continue to let those relations grow."
The only downside for Smith, who grew up in nearby Naples, Fla., and still lives there with his family, will be having to leave southwest Florida once spring camps break for the first time in three seasons.
"When this job was offered I talked to my wife and she looked me right in the eye and told me, 'You've worked your butt off for this for 20 years. You better take it and do your best and enjoy it,'" Smith said.
It is, after all, something he has dreamed about for a very long time.
J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.