Smith wants to play

But Seneca Valley graduate and Tampa Bay Rays catcher says numerous questions need to be answered first

May 26, 2020 Cranberry Local Sports


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Seneca Valley graduate Kevan Smith, seen in this file photo hitting a home run for the Chicago White Sox, wants to play baseball again. Desperately. But the newest Tampa Bay Rays catcher may not get the chance if MLB players and owners can't answer a myriad of questions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that is holding up the start of the season.

Kevan Smith wants to play baseball again.

Desperately.

The Seneca Valley graduate and catcher with the Tampa Bay Rays isn't sure if he will.

“That is so hard to say,” Smith said. “I'll play in whatever. Let's just get the ball rocking.”

There are seemingly more obstacles to the return of Major League Baseball, however, than there are grains of dirt in an infield.

And Smith, who was battling for a back-up catcher role with the Rays before the coronavirus shut down the game on March 13, is more than cognizant of that fact.

“I'm staying optimistic,” Smith said of the prospects of playing this season. “But I will say guys I've talked to are slowly losing that optimism.”

That confidence in a season is waning fast because of a plan that is rife with issues.

And, of course, a money squabble.

Lot of questions, few answers

In March, the players and owners negotiated a pro-rated salary based on the number of games played.

The owners, though, want to tear that up and give the players a percentage of the overall revenue instead.

No one seems to know what that number will be.

Smith said that's a non-starter for the players.

“It's hard for someone who is a big-money guy, like big starting pitchers, to go out and risk the longevity of their career playing at a fraction of what they're worth,” Smith said. “I know it's all relative ... in terms of the profession. You're risking your body's health to work at 30 percent of your worth. That's asking a lot.”

Smith said he is updated almost nightly by the union on the status of negotiations.

He said the players are united.

“We'll never be divided,” Smith said. “If you don't stick together, you'll get pulled apart.”

Smith's teammate with the Rays, left-handed pitcher Blake Snell, got into some hot water two weeks ago when he expressed his opinion on taking a pay cut.

Smith understood the negative reaction to Snell's comments from fans.

“Blake's a good dude, but I think people took him the wrong way,” Smith said.

Smith said it's hard for the players to not look bad when squabbling over money.

But Smith pointed to comments from Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer as the perfect summation of the players' stance.

Bauer took to Twitter and laid out a scenario in which a painter is contracted by the owner of an apartment complex for $100,000. But the apartment complex suffers a fire and half the units are destroyed, so the owner and the painter re-negotiate in a show of good faith a $50,000 contract.

The owner, however, later realizes he won't be able to rent out as many apartments as he thought, so he wants the painter to take 50 percent of his rental income instead of the $50,000. The painter has no idea how much that will be and the owner won't give him an estimate.

Bauer asks, “Are your services worth less because the client can't rent the apartments?”

“I think Trevor Bauer said it perfectly,” Smith said. “That's what Blake needed to say.”

Smith said there are other major stumbling blocks to the return of baseball.

He said the 67-page safety protocol proposal from the league created more questions than it answered.

Like what happens if a player contracts the coronavirus once the season starts?

“It will happen,” Smith warned. “Someone is going to get it. Then what?”

The players proposed even more vigorous testing in a response on Saturday.

Smith also balked at some of the restrictions, like no high-fives, no spitting, no sunflower seeds — and the big one, no fans.

“The first time I read it, my first reaction was, 'This isn't baseball,'” Smith said. “To me the games are a wash. They are going to be like back-field instructional league games. You lose that interaction with the fans.

“Listen. I'm not complaining,” Smith said. “I'll do whatever, but it's funny to hear all of this stuff they are doing just to play a modified version of baseball and it's not gonna be the same. It may not be the same for awhile.”

Smith has persevered before

Smith is no stranger to adversity in his major league career.

Just hours before he was to make his debut for the Chicago White Sox in Toronto in 2016, he suffered back spasms, was scratched from the lineup and wound up on the disabled list.

He wondered if he'd get another shot.

Smith did, appearing in seven games later that season.

Since, Smith has batted .276 with 12 homers and 71 RBI in 206 games with the White Sox and the Anaheim Angels.

In the fall of 2017, Smith lost one of his best friends, Daniel Webb, in an all-terrain-vehicle accident.

In 2018 on Players Weekend, Smith wore “Webby” on the back of his jersey in honor of Webb and blasted a home run.

Smith also named his son, Wyatt Daniel, after Webb.

Last year with the Angels, Smith and his teammates had to deal with the sudden death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

Smith batted .251 in Anaheim in 2019, but hit the ball hard with a career-high exit velocity of 89.4 mph. His expected batting average was .294.

Still it wasn't enough for the Angels to keep him.

Crazy unknowns

Smith, who has a second child on the way with his wife Jessica next month, received interest from 12 teams after the Angels didn't tender him a contract.

The Rays seemed the best place for Smith to earn a roster spot, so he agreed to a minor league deal with Tampa Bay.

Smith was having a strong spring and felt like he had a good shot at winning the back-up job.

Until COVID-19 pulled the plug on the season.

Smith has stayed in shape during the hiatus by working out with former Pirate and Pine-Richland graduate Neil Walker, who is now with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Pirates' first baseman Josh Bell.

Smith said there needs to be an extensive spring training before the season starts or the injuries will pile up.

The likelihood is players won't get it. Instead, they'll only get simulated games in the their home stadiums.

Another question with no apparent answer.

“We're just talking for what, 10 minutes, and we've come up with 30 issues,” Smith said. “There's probably 100 more.

“There's just so many unknowns. There's just crazy things to think about.”

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Mike Kilroy

Mike Kilroy

I joined the Butler Eagle in January of 2000 after spending five years at the Steubenville Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times, where I did everything from editing the sports section to knocking snow and ice off the Associated Press satellite dish. I graduated from Kent State University in 1994 with a degree in magazine journalism and a minor in skipping class. My honors include a 2007 Associated Press award for feature writing, a 2005 and 2007 Keystone award for column writing and a 2003 Golden Quill award for feature writing. I have a high game of 255 at Wii Bowling.