SAN DIEGO -- The Padres signed a promising young right-hander on Wednesday afternoon. Then they gave him the experience of a lifetime.Five-year-old Levi Smith -- an ardent Padres fan born with a congenital heart condition -- signed a one-day contract with the team, and he made the most of his
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres signed a promising young right-hander on Wednesday afternoon. Then they gave him the experience of a lifetime.
Five-year-old Levi Smith -- an ardent Padres fan born with a congenital heart condition -- signed a one-day contract with the team, and he made the most of his day with the club. In partnership with Make-A-Wish San Diego, the Padres hosted Smith for the day. He took grounders in the infield, ran the bases and even got his own locker in the home clubhouse.
"It's excitement that I don't even know how to express," said Hannah Smith, Levi's mom. "He's having the best day of his life. This is as special to him as anything could be."
Smith arrived in the players' parking lot in style via limousine. He proceeded through the tunnel to the clubhouse and received a standing ovation from dozens upon dozens of Padres' staff.
Afterward, Smith put pen to paper with Andy Green in the manager's office. Green showed Smith to his locker, where he spent time hanging out with the players. In one corner, a handful of relief pitchers invited Smith to shoot hoops with them on a mini basket they'd stationed on the wall.
All the while, Smith beamed. As a result of his heart condition, he was placed in the NICU, where he had surgery and a pacemaker inserted when he was 10 days old. His parents noted that he watches every Padres game at night -- and then again on replay in the morning.
"Right after his last surgery, I remember him getting home, and the first thing he was excited to do was watch the Pads," Hannah Smith said.
Levi received a game-used bat from Hunter Renfroe (his favorite player) then proceeded from the clubhouse to the dugout where Green held his media session. He predicted an Austin Hedges home run, then made the announcement that left-hander Joey Lucchesi will start Sunday's game in Los Angeles.
The most touching moment of the day came after Levi spent half an hour running the bases, taking swings off a tee and fielding ground balls. When he stepped on home plate one final time, right-hander Craig Stammen lifted Levi onto his shoulders. He was mobbed by the entire team. The other relievers, playing catch up the right-field line, temporarily ditched their throwing session to join in.
"Any time you have a family that's going through that and you have a kid with a dream and you can make it possible, it's humbling," said closer Kirby Yates. "This is where he wants to come. This is where he wants to be, because that's what his dream is. It puts it in the right perspective and puts baseball on the backburner."
Smith delivered the game ball to the mound and lined up with the team for the national anthem before watching the game with his family from a luxury box.
"It's so uplifting for him to watch the Padres, and not only the Padres, but baseball in general," said Matt Smith, Levi's father. "This experience is unbelievable. For him, it's his life right now."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.