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First Swing at the Big Leagues

Former Terp Fulfills Lifelong Dream With Callup to the Blue Jays

By Matt Gilpin

Kevin Smith bats against Washington Nationals

AP Photo by Nick Wass; photo below by Maryland Athletics

Former Terp baseball star Kevin Smith, who hit .286 with a team-high 19 home runs and 63 RBIs with Triple-A Buffalo this season, was called up on Wednesday to the Toronto Blue Jays, and batted in a game against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. Below, he bats for Maryland.

A typical late night for a minor league baseball player involves getting a snack, relaxing with TV or video games, or catching up on much-needed sleep.

Former Maryland Terrapins shortstop Kevin Smith was expecting to have one of those typical nights after his Tuesday game in Syracuse was rained out. But just before 11 p.m., he received the call that every baseball player dreams about from the moment when they first put on a cap and glove.

The Toronto Blue Jays informed him that he was being called up to the majors and would join the team in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Smith said. “Being here in D.C., so close to Maryland. It’s just crazy how kind of full circle it is. This means everything to me and is the validation of years and years of hard work.”

Donning the number 66, Smith took the field at Nationals Park looking confident and smooth, with a newfound pep in his step. The shortstop didn’t start the game, but did make his major league debut with an at-bat in the eighth inning where he struck out on a slider in the dirt.

Neither that nor the off-and-on thunderstorms could rain on Smith’s parade, one that followed a storied career at Maryland.

Kevin Smith playing baseball for MarylandHis three years in College Park included his true freshman season on the memorable 2015 Super Regional team, which went onto produce 15 minor league players, including four who went onto MLB: San Francisco Giants outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. batted leadoff for the Terps in 2015, and Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe batted third. Sandwiched in between them was Smith. Pitcher Mike Shawaryn also made it to the majors where he played for the Boston Red Sox in 2019.

When Smith got the news that he was coming up, one of the first calls was to Lowe, his former infield partner. And one of the first texts was to Maryland baseball coach Rob Vaughn, who was an assistant on the 2015 Maryland team.

“Kev has been a professional since the day he stepped on campus,” Vaughn said. “It was just a matter of time before he became a big leaguer. He has a great family, an incredible work ethic and an unbelievable human being. This is just the start of a long career for him.”

Current Terps assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Matt Swope has been supporting Smith throughout his entire journey. Swope, who was the team’s director of operations during Smith’s time in College Park, headed to Nationals Park on Wednesday to see one of his star pupils.

Smith was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 MLB Draft after his time in College Park. But his trip to the bigs was not without bumps. A late bloomer in high school, he heard doubts entering college that he wasn’t good enough to play at Maryland. When he failed to live up to preseason All-American expectations during his junior season, some evaluators questioned his ability to stick at shortstop and cut his strikeouts down at the next level. In 2019, he hit .209 and struck out 151 times in Double-A.

But this season, after hitting .286 with a team-high 19 home runs and 63 RBIs with Triple-A Buffalo, he proved the doubters wrong with an exclamation point.

“This was always the goal,” said Smith, “The most important people in my life believed in me and that’s all that matters. My family, my coaches and my teammates always had my back and I’m here because of them.”

A longer version of this article is available at umterps.com.

 

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