First Love, First Base: Park Smith III
Gifted athletes come and go, and, over the years, New Jersey Baseball Magazine has had the opportunity to meet and interview many of them. Some realize their goals and some do not, but few have as clear a vision of where life will take them as Park Smith III.
NCAC Division 3
Denison University in Granville OH
Park hails from Martinsville, NJ, where he played at various levels, eventually ascending to his senior year at Denison University, where he majors in political science and minors in philosophy. At each of those levels Park has set and achieved new standards for himself, and to date he has always measured up. At 22 years-old, he can already look back on a baseball career that has seen him succeed wherever he’s played.
From the time that he played on his local travel team in Warren through high school, American Legion, AAU, and now NCAA Division 2, Park has set realistic targets for achievement and not rested until he attained them. In his younger years he always found himself positioned at first base because he was always the “big kid.” Being left-handed “ruled out playing other positions,” so first base became his home on the baseball field, and he focused on becoming the best fielding first baseman he could be.
Taking a Break
From First Base
Because of his strong arm, he has also pitched, and it comes as no surprise that he has done so successfully. As did The Pingry School, Denison University used him on the mound in his freshman and sophomore seasons. However, he has grown to like playing at 1st to the point now that it’s his “first love.” Interestingly enough, one of his cherished memories in baseball and one of his strongest performances on the field came on the mound.
The Pingry School
of Martinsville NJ
Charting a Future Course
He was in his senior year at The Pingry School, and his team was competing in the Somerset County tournament. The semi-final game versus Bridgewater-Raritan High School was a tightly played contest that went into the 11th inning. Both teams got excellent pitching and timely defense - Park recalls having benefitted from “five or six double plays” - with Pingry eventually winning the game. He, along with everyone who played in or watched that game, will always remember the ten superb innings that he pitched that day and the one earned run that he allowed, a singular performance at any level.
For as long as he has played Park has had the good fortune to have superior talent and knowledgeable coaching around him. As early as his middle school years, he played for the Warren Al-Stars travel team after which he “graduated” to the Diamond Backs, “central Jersey’s AAU team.” Long time mentors Coach Jose Rivera, who coached him on the Warren All-Stars, and Dan Batista who served as General Manager for his American Legion and later as Assistant General Manager with the New Jersey Pilots, gave him an understanding of baseball and a progressive education in the game that few young players are lucky enough to have.
Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Defining MLB Talent
All that training paid off with his assignment to the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League’s NJ Pilots (ACBL) in 2009. The summer ACBL presents aspiring athletes with as close a look at MLB Level talent as they can get while still playing in college. Park is quick to point out that he was “very fortunate to have the opportunity to play at that level.” The ACBL, he continues, “one of nine leagues sponsored by Major League Baseball,” pits the best of the best throughout the northeast against one another in competition that separates the good from the gifted, and the gifted from MLB material.
Pursuing a Future Course
Playing with and against exceptional athletes has also helped him excel. Former teammates of his who have aspired to higher levels,” some of the best players from the area” as Park describes them, include RHP Michael Ness (Seton Hall Prep, now at Duke), RHP Adam Rivera (Watchung Hills HS, now at St. Joe’s),INF Bobby Abreu (Piscataway HS, now at Seton Hall University), and 3B Rob Vogt (Seton Hall Prep, now at Ursinius College)
Besides increasing his desire to someday have a big league tryout, it has inspired him to work even harder at perfecting his game in order to earn the opportunity. “It all depends on my performance in senior year. Winning a conference championship and hitting .450 are realistic possibilities,” he says.
If that’s how his 2010 college season pans out, who’s to say that an assignment to rookie league or single-A cannot happen? Beyond that he has no particular preference about how he might get drafted. Somehow, New Jersey Baseball Magazine and anyone else who has watched Park Smith III grow, both in baseball and in life, knows that getting that one shot will be all that he needs to prove himself. His perseverance and dedication will take it from there.
Power Numbers in Sight
Mark Texeira: Power Numbers
Speaking of which, he admires Mark Texeira’s dedication to his craft, particularly how he “takes pride in his defense and devotes so much time and effort to having that prowess, both offensively and defensively.”
Whether or not Park Smith III’s future course takes him to the promised land of Major League Baseball, his superior work ethic will make him successful regardless. It’s hard to imagine anything to the contrary, given that challenging academic program he’s chosen in college. While he contemplates a possible audition
Reaching for the Future
for the big show, he may also realistically envision a life dedicated to the public good. His study of world politics and governance could land him a position in a Washington think tank as easily as his pursuit of excellence in baseball could result in a position on a major league diamond.
Whether he ends up fielding grounders or researching policy briefs, you can bet that Park Smith III will remain on course to a successful future. A gifted talent, after all, is easy to spot. And, of course we know that his first love will always be first base.