Players like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are once in a generation. They have set the bar astronomically high for any player who aspires to play Major League Baseball.
Most are not blessed with such talent. The majority have to work for a lifetime just to get a shot to perform on the brightest stage.
Former Desert Vista catcher Sean Smedley might not be Harper or Trout, but he is finally getting his shot. After originally being passed on in the MLB draft, Smedley got the call he had long dreamed of: an offer to play professionally as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Basically when I got the call to sign as a free agent, it was basically a dream (come true), you know, you get to live the dream,” Smedley said.
While Smedley may be getting his shot, he didn’t make it to the professional ranks on the back of his talent alone. He never received a lot of attention from big colleges or scouts.
Northwestern Louisiana State was the only Division I school to offer him a baseball scholarship. Instead, Smedley went the junior college route.
After graduating from Desert Vista, Smedley played at Yavapai College for a year before transferring to Division II Texas A&M International.
By his own admission, he wasn’t the most talented guy on the field. It took him a while to even realize that playing professionally was even a possibility.
“I was never really a talented guy so I felt like I had to work harder than everybody else,” Smedley said. “Playing in high school I didn’t get too many offers or too many looks.
“And then, getting my opportunity at Texas A&M International, I started figuring out the game, I started slowing it down in my mind. Once I started figuring out slowing it down in my mind, I noticed I could play this game at a higher level.”
Every day, when Smedley goes out to practice with the Rays at their spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Fla., he goes out with a small chip on his shoulder.
He doesn’t have the name of Nick Ciuffo, a fellow catcher and the Rays’ first overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, spurning a baseball scholarship offer from the University of South Carolina.
“You gotta show up to the field early. You gotta get your workouts in,” said Smedley, who will most likely be assigned to the short-season Gulf Coast Rookie League squad. “You have to do things a little bit harder than everybody else because you’re not the big-name guy.
“Basically, my goals are to do my best every day, give 100 percent. That’s what the Tampa Bay Rays want and that’s what I’m going to do and whenever I get my opportunity to play I have to make the most of it and prove that I can play this game at a high level.”
Giving that extra effort is something that Smedley has always done.
His quiet nature and workmanlike approach to the game is something that comes naturally to him and earned him the respect of those around him since he played on the varsity team for the Thunder from 2006 to 2009.
“He was a quiet kid, a constant worker, and a guy that every day came to work,” remembers Thunder head coach Stan Luketich. “He led by example and that’s why the kids respected him, because on a good day or bad day you got the same effort out of him.”
Although he may not have been drafted that doesn’t bother Smedley. In his mind, he has the same chance to make the team as anybody else.
“Signing as a free agent still puts you in the same position as those guys who got drafted,” Smedley said. “I get the same opportunity.”
• Eric Smith is a junior journalism major at Arizona State University. He is a summer intern at the AFN.