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Family, passion keep journeymen in game

A's Smith, Indians' Quiroz reflect on career on fringes of MLB
Special to MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- Chris Smith, a 35-year-old pitcher in the Oakland A's organization, is in a familiar position this spring.

He isn't expected to make the A's Opening Day roster. Entering his 15th season in professional baseball, he has never left camp with a Major League club.

MESA, Ariz. -- Chris Smith, a 35-year-old pitcher in the Oakland A's organization, is in a familiar position this spring.

He isn't expected to make the A's Opening Day roster. Entering his 15th season in professional baseball, he has never left camp with a Major League club.

But Smith is nothing if not persistent.

Drafted by the Red Sox in 2002, Smith made his big league debut in June of 2008. He pitched in only a dozen games before returning to Triple-A. The next offseason, he signed with Milwaukee, and for the second year in a row didn't reach the big leagues until June.

Smith pitched in 35 games that season, but slipped back to three big league games in 2010. He did not take a big league mound again until last season.

His ERA during from 2008-10 was 2.76 in the Minors, compared to 5.19 against MLB hitters.

"You never want to bounce around, you want to stick, but sometimes that's not part of the job description," he said this week.

Despite his age, Smith remains motivated because he loves the game. This is his 13th Spring Training, and he smiled when asked if he still feels the same excitement he did as a younger player.

"It's exciting. It's a chance for me to be a kid and do all the little things that little kids want to do," Smith said.

Smith isn't the only player who has found a glass ceiling above Triple-A. Over at the Indians' camp, 35-year-old catcher Guillermo Quiroz prepares for his second Spring Training with the club. He spent all of last year and 2015 in the Minors.

Video: SF@ARI: Quiroz lifts a solo home run to left

Quiroz saw Major League action in 10 of 11 seasons from 2004-14, but he appeared in fewer than 20 games in eight of those campaigns. In four of them, he appeared in no more than two games.

"I just keep getting ready until I can get some more," Quiroz said. "That's all I do. That's all I think about. Anytime I step on the field, I give my 100 percent."

His last big league action came in September 2014 with the San Francisco Giants. Quiroz's motivation to keep at it rests in his family: He has two kids, ages 3 and 10.

"I have two kids, man. I've got to feed them," Quiroz said. "And, of course, I want to keep making my family proud of me. My mom, my dad. They worked a lot to get me to where I'm at right now."

Quiroz's fight for a position is an uphill battle. Indians manager Terry Francona has already named Yan Gomes the starting catcher and Roberto Perez the backup, and 21-year-old Francisco Mejia earned a spot on the 40-man roster after hitting .342 in the Minor Leagues last year.

Additionally, 36-year-old Erik Kratz is on the non-roster invitee list with Quiroz. Kratz has played in 96 games on five different MLB teams over the past three years.

Smith is closer to achieving his goal with the A's. He pitched in 13 games late last season, posting a 2.92 ERA, and manager Bob Melvin said he "already has proven that he belongs here."

However, Smith may face a similar issue as Quiroz; the team's depth may prevent him from beginning the season in the big leagues. This doesn't prevent him from coming up later, and Melvin admitted that on a team that placed players on the disabled list 31 times last season, Smith might get a chance.

"Our mantra here is, 'If you don't start here, it doesn't mean you might not end up here,'" Melvin said. "He understands that, too. If anybody has the type of awareness that you'd like guys to have, it's him."

Logan Newman is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Oakland Athletics, Guillermo Quiroz, Chris Smith