Mark Smith gets started against Twins


May 15, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nobody thought enough of Arcadia (Calif.) High School's .468 hitter to use a late-round draft choice on him in 1988, so Mark Smith headed off to the University of Southern California to pursue a college degree.

Six years later, Smith is a few classes short of that degree. He also has become an entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia, playing his way in last night when he made his major-league debut at the Metrodome in the Orioles' 8-5 loss to the Twins.

"I always could run and throw and I could put the ball on the bat, I just didn't have any clue how to hit," Smith said, explaining why he was not drafted out of high school. "I worked on it while I was at SC. I didn't go to college with the idea of becoming a baseball player. My father's a surgeon. My sister's a lawyer. My brother's a broker, and my mom's a nurse. I was just going to school to get a degree."

His goals started to change when he was named a second-team All-American by Baseball America as a freshman.

Smith was the Orioles' right fielder and No. 9 hitter against Minnesota Twins right-hander Scott Erickson last night. In Smith's first at-bat, he struck out in three pitches.

Smith didn't deny he had jitters in his first at-bat. "I didn't think I would be nervous, but I was, and it didn't go away," he said.

He went 1-for-4 in the game. He saved the ball from his first major-league hit, a bases-loaded bloop single off Minnesota reliever Mike Trombley. The ball landed behind second base and the hit drove in two runs in the Orioles' four-run eighth.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates liked what he saw of Smith in spring training, when he hit .300 and drove in eight runs in 40 at-bats.

"He's improved in a lot of areas," Oates said.

Most notably, Smith has shown more power. Smith, chosen by the Orioles in the first round of the 1991 draft, hit just four home runs in each of his first two seasons. He hit 12 last season for Triple-A Rochester. He had five home runs in his first 11 games for Rochester this season.

"I've always hit well, but they always wanted more power out of me," Smith said. "I don't think power is something that comes overnight. You learn more about what to look for on different counts, and you learn about different pitchers, and I've done a lot of work with weights in the off-season."

When promoted to the Orioles, Smith still had five home runs after 29 games and was hitting .245. The impression he left on the front office in the spring carried more weight than his numbers at Rochester.

"Maybe in their point of view the spring I had was big, but I always knew I could play," Smith said. "I guess maybe it opened their eyes a little."

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