April 13, 2012
By Jon Cooper
When you wear the number 13, you aren’t concerned about superstition and don’t rely on luck.
Freshman second baseman Thomas Smith wears number 13, he isn’t and doesn’t.
There’s nothing about Smith’s rise from a walk-on happy to have a spot on the team to starting second baseman that Georgia Tech is happy to have that can’t be explained by hard work.
From the time he earned a chance to walk onto Fall Practice, with no promises the Fort Pierce, Fla., native and John Carroll High School product has worked as he waited for his opportunity.
“It’s been crazy,” said Smith, a mechanical engineering major whose dad is a Georgia Tech alumnus. “Coming in as a walk-on, I didn’t really expect to be in the starting lineup. I was just hoping to make the team at first then hope that Coach Hall would give me a chance to play a little bit. Being able to work into the starting lineup has been unbelievable.”
Work is the operative word. His work ethic is what caught head coach Danny Hall’s attention and has made Smith a team-favorite.
“That’s probably one of the things that impressed me in the fall. When practice was over, he would have the dirtiest uniform of anybody,” Hall remembered. “[Thursday] would be a good example. We were doing some things and when he came in to hit during batting practice, I looked and both of his knees were grass-stained, he had grass stains all over his pants. The fact that he’s playing some hasn’t slowed him down. He goes full out every time he steps on a baseball field.”
“He’s a guy that never takes a day off,” added junior Sam Dove, himself a former walk-on, who has played 10 games at second this season (Mott Hyde and Connor Winn also have played there). “Even when he wasn’t playing he was out there before the game taking ground balls, giving 100 percent, just constantly working on what he needs to do.
“He’s a guy who’s given the whole team an uplift,” he added. “You love to see a guy like that succeed. He’s just a humble guy who’s out there doing everything he can for the team. He’s a real team player. When someone like that succeeds, it’s great for the team. We can all cheer for him.”
Smith was almost relegated to full-time cheerleader, as Hall considered redshirting the freshman, who didn’t see action in the first 25 games of the year.
That didn’t surprise Smith.
“I did not expect to get in the first few games as a freshman and especially a walk-on,” he said. “I knew I’d have to wait and hopefully when my chance came I’d make the most of it.”
What did surprise him was a few hours prior to the March 28th game against Georgia Southern, when he found out he’d be making his first start.
“I felt like we needed somebody to give us a little spark,” said Hall. “So I decided not to redshirt him and just play him some and he jumped right in there and played very well.”
Smith got on base three times in his debut, going 1-for-2 with drawing two walks, and scoring a run.
“I had always hoped I could perform like that when I first came out,” said Smith, who also made a run-saving stop defensively to end a seventh-inning threat in the 10-5 victory. “But i really couldn’t have asked for a better start to my college career. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Thus far he has. Smith hit in his first seven games, tying for the fourth-longest hitting streak by a Yellow Jacket this season. Heading into this weekend’s series at Wake Forest, he was batting a robust .464 (13-for-28), with five runs scored, two RBIs and two stolen bases and had four multi-hit games (two two-hit games and two three-hit games).
He’s been as good on defense, as he began play Friday fielding .933, with two errors in his first 30 chances. Sure-handedness was expected, and Smith’s work ethic has led to consistent improvement in other facets as he learns his new position.
“He can really catch the baseball,” said Hall. “Probably the thing that he’s gotten much better at, he’s gotten a lot stronger than he was when he came in here. He’ll continue to get stronger. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm, I think as he gets a little stronger he’ll throw better. He’s been mostly a shortstop so I’ve tried to show him some of the pivots at second base. He’s getting better at it. He’s got to keep working at that but he’s much better than he was even like two weeks ago.”
Getting the freshman to focus on defense shouldn’t be a problem.
“I just try to go out there and make all the routine plays that I can,” said Smith, who would like to work for the Department of Defense after graduation. “If the opportunity comes to make a diving play I just give 110 percent try to get everything that I possibly can to get as many outs as I can for the pitcher.
“Coach Hall has definitely helped me out with my knowledge, my baseball IQ, things like that, given me little tidbits here and there about my technique, what to do in certain situations,” he added. “It’s been a dream come true to be able to play and be taught by such a great coach as Coach Hall.”
Teaming with Mott Hyde also has been a positive. If anyone can relate to Smith’s adjustment to a new position it’s Hyde, who started last season at short then moved to second.
“Mott’s been great,” Smith said. “He’s a great guy to play up the middle with. He’s really helped me out a lot from his experience last year as a freshman to be able to kind of give me a little bit of guidance on situational stuff, how to play the position, things like that.”
Smith is the fourth different Yellow Jacket to play second this season. He may be the last. But he will continue to play every day as if his job depends on it.
“I go out there and feel like I have to earn the spot every day,” he said. “I feel like on any given day I can be sitting out. I’ve got to go out there and perform, do my best and try to keep my spot. I take nothing for granted.”