JUPITER, Fla. – When Michael Garciaparra first put together the coaching staff for his GBG (Garciaparra Baseball Group) Marucci team competing at this weekend’s PG WWBA World Championship, he was extremely pleased to announce the addition of an assistant coach with a heady PG WWBA World Championship resume.
What Garciaparra didn’t realize back in September was that prominent assistant coach would be taking his place here this weekend, sharing assorted dugouts at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex with Mike’s father, Ramon Garciaparra.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please introduce yourself to Coach Smith – Coach Dominic Smith, to be more precise. The same Dom Smith who patrolled these grounds and played on these fields at both the 2011 and 2012 PG WWBA World Championships, and the same Dom Smith who was a first-round pick (11th overall) of the New York Mets in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Smith helped Ramon Garciaparra and several other assistants guide GBG Marucci to wins in their first three pool-play games here Friday and Saturday before leaving on Sunday to get back to some training and workout obligations with the Mets.
Regular head coach and GBG founder Mike Garciaparra, a SoCal area scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, is in St. Louis enjoying the Cardinals playing in the World Series (although his heart may very well be here at the Roger Dean Complex, which hosts the Cardinals during spring training).
So for the last few days, instead of Coach Mike Garciaparra the elite group of talented players that comprise the GBG Marucci roster instead were listening to Coach Dominic Smith.
“It’s fun coaching these kids and this is a great team,” Smith told PG on Saturday. “They really do listen and they want to learn and become better ballplayers. These guys are young and they still have some ways to go, but they’re just like me when I was in high school; I was the same way. They make the same mistakes I made when I was in high school, but just in my first year of pro ball I have learned so much.
“I feel like I can help enhance their game and help them get to the next level by trying to teach them some of the little things to do.”
When speaking with Smith it is sometimes difficult to remember that the young man is still 18 years old himself (he turned 18 last June 15). A year ago at this time he was playing in the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship with GBG Yak Baseball West, only months after participating in the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis and the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings in San Diego.
Being only a year removed from high school and his Perfect Game career, Smith has played with or against most of the prospects he helped coach this weekend. He was a high school teammate with outfielder Denz’l Chapman (2014, Los Angeles), a San Diego State recruit ranked 132nd nationally, at Serra High School and he also singled out shortstop Josh Morgan (2014, Corona, Calif.), a UCLA commit ranked 112th, as someone he played alongside frequently.
“We do know each other and they do listen what to what I have to say, which is good,” Smith said. “I’m here to give them a little insight into pro ball and how everything works.”
There are three highly ranked national prospects on the GBG Marucci roster that followed in Smith’s footsteps to not only the PG WWBA World Championship but also the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings: third baseman Sean Bouchard (2014, San Diego), a UCLA commit ranked 49th; outfielder D.J. Peters (2014, Glendora, Calif.), a Cal State Fullerton recruit ranked 39th; and outfielder Trenton Kemp (2014, Clovis, Calif.), the No. 33-ranked prospect and a Fresno State commit.
“He’s definitely one of the more mature 18 year old kids that I know,” Bouchard said. “Playing a year already in pro ball he’s told us so much that we can learn from … and his maturity level is really rubbing off on us; he’s a great asset to the team.”
Although they both grew up in Southern California (Smith is from Los Angeles), Bouchard said he never got an opportunity to be a teammate of Smith’s on any travel ball teams. He is familiar with him, however.
“Just watching some of the videos and seeing him play in the (Perfect Game) All-American Game last year … it was something very special to watch,” Bouchard said. “I played against him in some Scout Ball games – just watching him get better every day, it’s going to be a real honor to play against him or with him one day (at the professional level).”
Smith spent his first season as a professional in the Rookie leagues, playing 48 games with the Mets affiliate in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and three games with Kingsport in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He hit .287 (48-for-167) with nine doubles, a triple, three home runs, 22 RBI and 23 runs scored in the GCL before going 4-for-6 (.667) with four doubles and four RBI in his brief stay in Kingsport. Together, he hit .301 with 13 doubles, a triple, three home runs, 26 RBI and 25 runs with an OPS of .837.
“A lot of people think I did great but I felt it could have been a thousand times better,” Smith said. “That’s just how hard I am on myself and a lot of people are hard on themselves like that. I struggled a little bit in the beginning and picked it up at the end … but it was a transition year; you transition from high school to pro ball.”
Smith said the most difficult adjustment was simply getting used to what he called the “every day grind.” He and other first-year pros right of high school have to get use to playing every day instead of two or three days a week, and working on their game from sunrise to well after sunset.
“After awhile you get use to it, you get use to the routine, but it’s definitely a grind,” Smith said. “It’s kind of hard playing every day and bringing your ‘A’ game every day. They expect you to play at your highest level every single day and that’s the hardest thing.”
It’s that message he seems to be getting across to the GBG Marucci prospects who next summer hope to be doing the same things Smith did this summer.
“I never got the opportunity to play with him or against him but I heard a lot about him,” Peters said. “I saw him play in the Perfect Game All-American Game and, you know, he’s a tank – he’ll hit the ball 500 feet and then he’ll hit us fungoes and he does it with ease. I really hope he makes it to the big leagues, and right now he’s doing really great.
“We all try to tap into him and learn as much as we can,” he continued. “… Dom can still act like a kid sometimes but you’ve got to have fun with this game. Dom’s a great guy and I’m excited to see what his future brings.”
Smith played at the PG WWBA World Championship in 2011 the Marlins Scout Team and in 2012 with GBG Yak Baseball West. Mike Garciaparra kept in touch with Smith throughout his first season of pro ball, and told him he would love to have him coach whenever Smith might have some free time. It so happened he had a couple of days free this weekend and was able to help out.
“I’m glad I’m able to come back and give back,” Smith said. “I played in this tournament for the last two years and Perfect Game has just been great to me. That first year was pretty nerve-racking seeing all those scouts out here – all of them in golf carts, all of them watching – so you get a little bit of nerves. My second time around it was more excitement than nerves because I already knew what to expect.
“My senior year I was more of a big dog, when in my junior year I was more of a puppy, a little dog,” he added with a smile. “It was very fun, though; the competition was great, we played on all these great professional fields, and it was just a fun experience and a fun time.”
This year’s PG All-Americans playing with GBG Marucci seem to be enjoying themselves, as well. GBG went unbeaten in pool-play (4-0) and advanced to the first round of the playoffs Sunday afternoon, but it was the hundreds of scout-filled golf carts that drew most of their attention.
“I’ve never seen golf carts outside of a golf course,” Bouchard said, shaking his head in amazement. “It’s great, seeing all these scouts and all these great players, this is obviously one of the best if not the best tournaments around for amateur baseball. Having these scouts around and having the players around is really eye-opening … and hopefully you can have fun and take advantage of it.”
Added Peters: “The only word to describe it is ‘crazy’. You never really see scouts on golf carts around California or Arizona or where we play. It’s a lot of fun and all of these players are really good. They all love the game just like me and the competition is amazing.”
Smith certainly looked relaxed and in his element as he mingled among the GBG Marucci players on Saturday, players who are still technically his peers, at least age-wise. But there was also an air of professionalism surrounding Coach Dominic Smith, and maturity in his manner did not go unnoticed.
“Having Dominic back, it’s kind of like he’s one of the ballplayers,” Ramon Garciaparra said. “They all treat him like he’s one of the ballplayers and they get to see what they can be like. He carries himself really well and it shows the kids that, ‘Hey, hopefully we can reach to that level.’ That’s what Dom brings to this team … and he’s a real good ballplayer and he’s well-respected.”