Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Naples High Grad called up to the Big Leagues

MLB: Naples High grad Jeff Smith called up to big leagues for Twins' playoff push

Updated Wednesday, September 15, 2010

During his days as a minor leaguer in the Minnesota Twins organization, former Naples High baseball star Jeff Smith never got a shot at playing in the major leagues.

Despite reaching Triple-A in parts of six different seasons with the Twins and Texas Rangers, the call never came, and after an injury ended his career in 2004, Smith put his major league dreams on hold.

Earlier this week, Smith finally got his shot to put on a major league uniform, but not as a player — as a coach. That small fact didn’t diminish the accomplishment for Smith, the manager of the Twins’ Double-A affiliate who was invited to join the Minnesota coaching staff for a 10-game stretch this month.

“The last three days have probably been three of the best baseball days of my career either as a coach or player,” said Smith, who joined the Twins in Cleveland for their recent three-game series with the Indians, on Tuesday. “Just getting to be around a playoff atmosphere where our major league team is making a playoff push, and getting to spend time with the players and coaches is incredible.”

Each year, the Twins pick one staff member from the minor leagues to join the team’s coaching staff following the conclusion of the minor league season. Smith, who managed the Twins’ Single-A affiliate Fort Myers Miracle during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, recently finished his first year as the manager of New Britain Rock Cats.

Smith started with the organization as a hitting instructor for the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2005, and has continued to impress as he’s been promoted from level to level.

“Jeff has a high ceiling, and this gives him an opportunity to see how things are done at the major league level,” Twins minor league director Jim Rantz said. “It’s a chance to see what it’s like, and it’s a good experience for him.”

While Smith is making his first appearance in the Twins’ major league clubhouse, he’s not exactly a stranger to many of the players on Minnesota’s roster.

“It’s kind of a unique situation because it’s a combination of players that I coached at the minor league level and guys that I played with during my minor league days,” Smith said. “That’s a unique combination and a pretty special thing for me.”

Smith will stay with the team for a total of 10 games, including a key three-game series against the Chicago White Sox, which started Tuesday night. His family, which still resides in Naples, will fly to Minnesota on Friday to watch the Twins play a three-game series with the Oakland Athletics.

“You never know when you’re going to get this opportunity, so I’m going to fly them up for the weekend series before I have to head back,” Smith said.

During his time with the team, Smith will perform the duties of a regular staff member, including throwing batting practice, and working one-on-one with players.

After his 10-game stint as a major league coach is over, Smith won’t get much of a break as he prepares to coach in the instructional league, which starts up today

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