Smith talks Negro Leagues history, LA roots

August 16th, 2020

Like most young baseball fans, grew up learning about Jackie Robinson and Major League Baseball’s color barrier. It was not until he was around 12 years old, however, when Smith began attending MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in inner-city Los Angeles, that he gained a thorough education about the Negro Leagues.

Within the halls of the Urban Youth Academy’s first location in Compton were photographs of Negro Leagues players and teams.

“They teach you a little bit about the history of the game, and how African Americans got started with baseball and got to become a part of MLB,” Smith said.

It was a lesson that only furthered Smith’s love of baseball, and one he took with him on Sunday into Major League Baseball’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues’ founding.

As a Black baseball player from a poor community, Smith does not believe he would have made it to MLB if not for the influence of the Urban Youth Academy. Even then, he grew up wishing more players who successfully made it out of South-Central Los Angeles would return to his home region to share their stories.

“It was really cool to learn about that stuff, especially at a young age because when I did play at the academy, I did see a lot of more diverse kids, and there were a lot of African American kids out there,” Smith said. “And then when I go play travel ball, it’s a 60-team tournament and I’m the only Black kid, it kind of really sets in and hits home, and raises understanding a little bit more and you appreciate it more.”

That is why Smith and some friends founded Baseball Generations, an organization that aids in player development in urban Los Angeles. His main objective is to provide resources to help children fulfill their dreams -- whether that be baseball or any other field. If it results in more Black children pursuing baseball, all the better.

“My only goal is I just want to help kids who want to learn and who want to better themselves,” Smith said. “There are a lot of talented kids from the inner city who just don’t get the chance, don’t get the opportunity, or don’t get the proper coaching or training or just mental skills, life skills that you need to be successful. … That’s something that I wanted to change. I wanted to show the kids that I am here for you guys, I do care about you guys, I want to see you guys be successful in life whether it be professional baseball or any other avenue. You can be anything in this world, and no dream is too big to achieve.”

Rotation issues

The Mets do not have any starting pitcher written in ink after Robert Gsellman on Monday. Tentatively scheduled to pitch on Tuesday is rookie David Peterson, provided he has no issues after Sunday’s bullpen session. Peterson had experienced a bit of abnormal left shoulder soreness during his last start.

The rest of the week depends in large part on Jacob deGrom, who did not make his last start due to neck stiffness. deGrom played catch on Sunday and could throw a bullpen session as soon as Monday, but until he does, the Mets will not know when he can slot into the rotation. It’s possible, but far from certain, that the reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner could start on Wednesday.

Michael Wacha, who is currently on the injured list due to right shoulder inflammation, is not a candidate to pitch in the early portion of the week. Wacha threw a bullpen session on Sunday and will pitch in a simulated game, rather than a Major League game, either on Tuesday or Wednesday. That means he won't come off the injured list until the weekend.

It also means the Mets will likely give another start to Steven Matz, despite his six-run blowup on Saturday and 14.66 ERA in August.Asked Sunday about Matz, manager Luis Rojas did not commit to giving him another start. However, the health of other pitchers could impact the Mets’ plans.

“You’ve got to stay on your toes,” Rojas said. “We have several moving parts.”

Roster move

Making a move to bolster their bullpen, the Mets recalled rookie right-hander Franklyn Kilome from their taxi squad. Kilome made his Major League debut earlier this month, allowing two runs in a four-inning relief appearance.

To clear space on the active roster for Kilome, the Mets designated veteran infielder Brian Dozier for assignment. A late signing for the Mets in the final days of Summer Camp, Dozier appeared in seven games, going 2-for-15 with a walk and five strikeouts.

Mental break

Rojas gave slumping first baseman Pete Alonso and shortstop Amed Rosario days off on Sunday, providing both players time to work on their swings while also allowing the Mets to put their best defensive lineup behind contact-oriented starter Porcello.

Alonso entered Sunday’s play in an 0-for-9 funk, but he had been showing signs of life at the plate before that. Of greater concern is Rosario, who is 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts over his last four games. Mets officials have already met with Rosario to discuss his overly aggressive plate approach, which has resulted in zero walks through 65 plate appearances.

The playing-time beneficiaries on Sunday were young infielders Andrés Giménez and Luis Guillorme, who have been starting almost daily.