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, 24, a graduate of Glenelg High School, signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, leaving 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. But the 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 in New Mexico.
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 thinks otherwise.
"In '90, I was the answer," Smith said. "I was the man. Butthen 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 anybody what he could do. He appeared injust 13 games, mostly as a late-inning replacement. In 11 at-bats, he hit .231.
"I was never in their plans, I don't think," Smith said. "Management said one thing. But between management and the lineup card, there was a gap."
As spring training wound down, the Dodgersasked Smith to return to Class AAA. But because he had been assignedthere 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, Idon't know, and I guess we'll never know that."
Four days later, Smith signed with the 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 Tigers vice president of player procurement and development Joe McDonald. "We havea need for middle infielders in our organization, particularly in Triple A, and we feel he has the potential to help out out now, and hopefully, one day in the big leagues."
Though he signed a minor league contract to play with the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens, thereby accepting a Class AAA assignment he refused only days earlier, Smith is comfortable with his decision.
"It was basically between Kansas Cityand 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 he added that he believes his future is brighterin Detroit than in would have been in Los Angeles.
"Although (second baseman Lou) Whitaker and (shortstop Alan) Trammell are here (in Detroit), right now, I feel the main thing I need to do is play everyday. If it's in Toledo, that's great, as long as I get to play."