SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith's steady ascent toward winning the Giants' 2018 Willie Mac Award actually began one year earlier.Smith, 29, spent that year recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, which he underwent March 30, 2017. The dignity and diligence that Smith maintained during his recovery and ultimate return to
SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith's steady ascent toward winning the Giants' 2018 Willie Mac Award actually began one year earlier.
Smith, 29, spent that year recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, which he underwent March 30, 2017. The dignity and diligence that Smith maintained during his recovery and ultimate return to San Francisco's bullpen gained the respect of teammates and coaches, who cast the most significant votes for the award that represents the franchise's highest honor.
The award is named for Willie McCovey, the Hall of Fame first baseman whose determination and competitive spirit inspired teammates throughout his 22 Major League seasons (1959-80) -- most of which were spent with the Giants.
Smith thanked his teammates in brief remarks during a pregame ceremony.
"I love those guys to death," the left-hander said.
After the Giants' 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, Smith added, "I don't know if [winning the award] has sunk in yet -- to be in the same breath as Willie McCovey and the past winners."
Smith replaced Hunter Strickland as San Francisco's closer in late June and entered Friday night's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers with 14 saves in 18 opportunities.
Statistically, Smith has experienced broad success. His 1.90 ERA ranked second among National League relievers, trailing only Milwaukee's Jeremy Jeffress (1.33). His strikeout rate of 12.12 per nine innings and .179 opponents' batting average were seventh-best in the league in both categories.
"When he went about his rehab last year, he was always around and always positive," Giants left-hander Ty Blach said. "He worked his butt off to get back here. He wanted to come back and help the team, and that's what he did."
Previous winners who attended the Willie Mac festivities included Jack Clark (the inaugural winner in 1980), Darrell Evans (1983), emcee Mike Krukow (1985-86), Chris Speier (1987), Dave Dravecky (1989), Mike Felder (1992) and Ellis Burks (2000). Active players and coaches present and in uniform were Hunter Pence (2013), Madison Bumgarner (2014), Brandon Crawford (2016) and Nick Hundley (2017). Buster Posey (2012), sidelined by hip surgery, was introduced but did not appear on the field.
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.