VERO BEACH, FLA. — Greg Smith isn't sure where the latest turn in his baseball career will take him. But he's hoping this road will be smoother than the onehe's been on for the last year.
Smith, a 24-year-old Sykesville native, signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, leaving behind what was once believed to be a promising future with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"It's kind of funny. I went from Dodgertown to Tigertown," Smith said. "I've only been here a day and a half. But so far, I like the organization. They're giving me a chance to play and that's what I need right now."
When he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in December 1990, Smith was said to be the Dodgers' future at second base. Butthe following spring, veteran infielder Juan Samuel, who wasn't expected to re-sign, returned and Smith was soon on his way to Class AAA Albuquerque, N.M.
Although he was called up to the majors briefly in May, a thumb injury later in the season limited Smith to just 53 games.
Desite the injury and hitting just .217, nearly 60 points below his career average in the minors, last winter Smith was once again said to have a shot at second base.
Smith, who graduated from Glenelg High in Howard County and still owns several state high school baseball records, thinks otherwise.
"In '90, I was 'the answer,' "Smith said. "I was 'the man.' But then Juan Samuel re-signed and I was out. Then this year, it was the same thing all over again."
Though he was protected on the Dodgers' 40-man roster, Smith played behind Samuel this spring and didn't get much of a chance to show anybodywhat he could do. He appeared in just 13 games, mostly as a late-inning replacement. In 11 at-bats, he hit .231.
"I was never in theirplans, I don't think," Smith said. "Management said one thing. But between management and the lineup card, there was a gap."
As springtraining worked into its final week, the Dodgers asked Smith to return to Class AAA. But because he had already been outrighted once, he was able to deny the request and become a free agent.
"I needed a place where there was more of an opportunity to play and advance to the big leagues," Smith said. "Why I was overlooked, I don't know and I guess we'll never know that."
Four days later, Smith signed withthe Tigers, one of four teams -- Houston, Kansas City and Toronto were the others -- said to be interested.
"We've followed Greg's career, particularly with the Cubs," said Joe McDonald, the Tigers' vicepresident of player procurement and development. "We have a need formiddle infielders in our organization, particularly in Triple A, andwe feel he has the potential to help out now, and hopefully, one dayin the big leagues."
Though he signed a minor-league contract to play with the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens, thereby accepting an assignment he refused only days earlier, Smith is comfortable with his decision.
"It was basically between Kansas City and these guys," Smith said. "These guys definitely had a need for middle infielders.
"They gave me a chance to play and that's what I need right now. Today (Thursday), I played my first nine-inning game since probably last July."
Smith said he wasn't promised anything by the Tigers, but saidhe believes his future is brighter in Detroit than in would have been in Los Angeles.
"Although (second baseman Lou) Whitaker and (shortstop Alan) Trammell are here, right now, I feel the main thing I need to do is play every day. If it's in Toledo, that great, as long asI get to play."
Bill Boeding covers the Los Angeles Dodgers in spring training for the Vero Beach Press Journal.