Chris Smith sat down with us to discuss his past setbacks, Major League experience, and the opportunity he sees with the Detroit Tigers.
The path for any non drafted baseball player is a long road, and it’s a road that reliever Chris Smith knows well. He believes that even though he’s only had a small taste of what the Majors is like, he can bring veteran experience to this young Detroit Tigers team. However, his main goal is to stay healthy and ultimately return to the big leagues in 2020.
“I want to go there and be able to kind of hopefully further my career with that organization and also try and get a little more big league time,” said Chris Smith in an interview with A Big Den For Cats.
He was referring to the decision he had to make in free agency after his season with the Washington Nationals in 2018. At that time, the Tigers were in the beginning of a rebuild, and Smith saw an opportunity to maybe get a chance with an unproven roster.
Things didn’t go as planned.
“I showed up to camp in 2019 and my second live batting practice it just popped,” said Smith. “It almost brought me to tears because it’s tough saying ‘Well, I’m a thirty year old getting Tommy John surgery.'”
Baseball is now a young mans league. He was forced to come to terms with himself – in order to get back to the major leagues, he’d have to prove to an organization that he hasn’t lost a step, despite the surgery. This is far from the only uphill battle Smith has been faced with; his career is littered with them. After going undrafted as a collegiate position player, he transitioned to the mound in Independent Ball. It took four more years of overseas performance to finally get a chance as an affiliated pro with the Yankees, but after all that work, the injury bug paid him a visit and he suffered a stress fracture in his forearm.
After everything else he’s gone through, getting Tommy John Surgery could have felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead, he persisted. When asked about his rehab process, Smith said this of the Tigers:
“They are a class act organization and I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed my limited time with them.”
When the Tigers released him from his contract in camp of 2019, they still took care of Smith with his surgery and recovery progress. In addition, they granted Smith to use their facility to go through his throwing program under a Minor League trainer. It may seem like a small gesture, but in reality it allowed him to really get back to full strength the right way.
Smith explained his number one goal for 2020 – he just wants a shot.
“Coming off Tommy John everyone has that question mark next to their name and I think as soon that I show I’m healthy then I feel like I’ll be able to show my abilities to the Detroit Tigers.”
“I’m coming back with a brand new arm, so I’m excited to showcase what I have.”
For Smith it’s all about getting 100 percent healthy for this upcoming and year and remaining strong. He’s been there before, which works to his advantage. The Tigers have also needed a significant amount of bullpen help in recent years, which could be a factor in whether we see Smith up with the Tigers this season. The very fact that he’s even in the conversation is a small miracle, but it’s a testament to Smith’s perseverance and the sheer force of will. How will it carry him? We’ll just have to wait and see.