Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

Long Beach State’s Dave Smith rises to the occassion

  • Amidst the No. 12 Long Beach State Dirtbags’ recent turnaround is a pitcher who was given a great opportunity and hasn’t looked back since. Senior Dave Smith has had a roller coaster of a college career but now finds himself as one of the key aspects of the Dirtbags’ success in 2017.

Thrust into the Sunday starting role on March 26 against Cal State Fullerton, Smith shined and threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out five batters in only his second start. LBSU swept CSUF for the first time in 15 years, thanks in part to Smith’s performance in the final game.

“It was a huge game not having swept them in so long and the momentum that it gave us for the start of conference was a big deal,” Smith said. “I would say that was the biggest start of my career.”

Since then, Smith has hit his stride, winning his next two starts, improved his record to 3-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.86. Many fans have enjoyed watching his recent pitching performances but none more than Smith’s father, Hal.

“It’s been awesome to watch him these last couple of weeks,” Hal Smith said. “It doesn’t surprise me, it’s just great to see that it’s finally coming to fruition.”

Smith was a very good pitcher at Elk Grove High School and lead his team to a CIF championship as a senior in 2013. He signed with Nevada Reno in the same year, but new coaches came in to take over the program and forced him to have to try out for team.

“He gave me a chance to make the team in the fall but I was already under the impression that I was on the team,” Smith said. “I was shocked when they ended up letting me go.”

Smith decided that a tryout was not the way he wanted to go and with no other real interest from four-year schools, he decided to take the junior college route.

“I was angry because I didn’t feel like I was informed about the situation,” Smith said. “I didn’t really have another option but at the same time it gave me a chip on my shoulder to get back into D-1 baseball and try to prove myself.”

The 6-foot-4 right hander did just that in his two years pitching for Cosumnes River College, posting an 8-1 record with a 1.66 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP as a sophomore.

Smith talked about how the junior college route helped shaped him into the pitcher he is today; “A lot of junior college guys play with a chip on their shoulder because maybe they’ve had to work harder to get to the division 1 level.”

The interest from division one schools started to roll in as Smith heard from programs like Loyola Marymount (where current LBSU pitching coach Dan Ricabal was coaching at the time) and LBSU. Smith chose to make the move to southern California and be a part of the Dirtbags’ storied program.

“I always just thought that Long Beach was a cool place to play…hearing about all the major leaguers that have come through there,” Smith said. “I knew that it would be a team that could make some noise in the Big West, which is a good conference, and it would be a place where I could play as well.”

Smith struggled in his junior season for LBSU, posting a 3-3 record with a 6.86 ERA, mostly starting midweek games.

“Obviously, I had a bad statistical year but I think I did a lot of growing as a person, as a pitcher as well and as a teammate,” Smith said. “There were times where I let myself think that the environment was bigger than it really was and had some thoughts of ‘I don’t belong here’ crawl into my head.”

LBSU head coach Troy Buckley also mentioned Smith playing during the summer led to some of his success this season.

“He came into the program kind of how we recruited him and then we kind of let him go and there wasn’t a lot of success so then we had to make some adjustments with him,” Buckley said. “He had to deal with adjustments in the middle of the season.”

Having to bounce back from the down year, Smith continued to work through the offseason and returned to the team in the fall ready to take on any role Buckley saw fit for him. That role wound up being the Saturday starting pitcher for the Dirtbags’ first series of 2017 against Oklahoma.

“I was a little nervous but I always say if you’re not nervous taking the mound the you’re not there for the right reason.”

Smith threw three innings and allowed one run to the Sooners in what would be his only start of the first half of the season. He would go on to make three appearances out of the bullpen for the Dirtbags up to the Arizona State series March 10-12.

When the team returned, Smith threw his routine bullpen at Blair Field during a Tuesday practice then made his way to CSULB’s campus for a workout. Smith dropped a weight on his right big toe, fracturing it at the tip.

“I didn’t think it would end my season but I definitely thought it would be a setback,” Smith said. “I thought I was starting to make some adjustments that were helping me throw the ball well and then I break my toe.”

Smith’s mother was a little more concerned when she heard the news.

“We honestly thought his season might be over,” Barbara Smith said. “We were praying that it’s not and God must have protected him because he didn’t have any pain the next day and was back in a week.”

In the CSUF series, juniors Darren McCaughan and John Sheaks opened with two starts that put LBSU in the position to sweep. The only problem was that the coaching staff still hadn’t made their decision as to who would start Sunday’s series finale.

“It was after the game when I was heading out of the clubhouse,” Smith said. Coach Ricabal flagged me down and said, ‘You got the ball.’”

Since then, Smith has looked like a whole new pitcher, winning his following two starts against UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside.

“I think he’s a lot more committed and a lot more confident from what he’s doing,” coach Troy Buckley said. “He’s a lot more secure and I think a lot of it his mentality.”

Smith will be graduating this spring and while he may not finish his career with the same statistics as the greats like Jered Weaver and Marco Estrada, there is no question that he is one of the most important players on the Dirtbags’ roster when it comes to staying on the hot streak the are on right now.
“I want to be remembered as someone who played hard and came to practice everyday with the intention to get better,” Smith said. “Also hopefully as someone who won a Big West championship ring and maybe a national championship as a part of this program. Ultimately, everyone who’s been a part of this program is about putting banners up.”

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