No baseball unsettling to D. Smith

August 14, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith was a boy once, though not for long. His father died when Dwight was 7. He had to become the man of the house, helping his mother handle the finances and finding a way to stretch a limited income as far as they could stretch it.

He was a child with the responsibilities of an adult growing up in Varnville, S.C., and Dwight Smith knows he can never recapture the youth he missed.

And he can never bring back his mother, who died early in his minor-league career.

What he can and does do is help today's children relish their formative years. He uses his influence as a major-league baseball player to guide children in a positive way. He visits schools, stops and talks with children who recognize him, telling them to make their parents proud.

"I've always loved children," Smith said.

As the strike settled in on Camden Yards on Thursday night, Smith had a child in mind. A faceless child with a nameless hometown. Pick a child, any child.

"I can't stop thinking about the people who work 12 months a year and finally made time for a vacation so they could take their little boy to Camden Yards to see Cal Ripken play," Smith said. "It's the only opportunity they ever had to take that little kid to finally see Cal Ripken and all the sudden it can't happen. Now that kid won't ever see Cal Ripken. I feel for that kid. I really do."

Smith backs his union's decision to strike, but he said he wonders why it had to come to this.

"If you want to figure something out, at least come up with a proposal sooner than the owners did," Smith said. "Instead, some of them didn't try to stop us from striking and just tried to make it look like it's our fault."

Smith wonders why all the acrimony between players and management is necessary.

"Seemingly, we should be the best of friends and we're the worst of enemies," Smith said. "How can they hate the people who indirectly make so much money for them? And how can we hate the people who pay us so much money every two weeks? It shouldn't be like that."

Like many Orioles who do not make their permanent homes in Baltimore, Smith plans to stay in Baltimore for a few days, then head home, which for him is Atlanta.

He yearns to make Baltimore his permanent baseball home, provided he can play baseball and not watch others do so.

"I love it here," said Smith, who is batting .306 since joining the Orioles. "The enthusiasm is great. The crowd is close. They pack the house every night. You would be crazy to say this is not a great place to play. But I mean play. Who would want to sit with so much fun going on?"

He likens Camden Yards to Wrigley Field, his home ballpark for his first five major-league seasons.

"It reminds me a lot of Wrigley," Smith said. "The crowds every day. The way they follow baseball. The way they back you win or lose."

Like all bench players, Smith craves more playing time. But he does it with a smile.

"All through my career people have asked me if I'm unhappy when I'm not playing every day," Smith said. "My mother did everything she could, worked as hard as she could to find a way to scrape up enough money to make little Dwight happy for Christmas. I'm making three-quarters of a million dollars and people ask me if I'm unhappy?"

Puzzled? Frustrated? Yes. Unhappy? Not by a long shot.

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