Tyler Smith has come to agree with Oregon State coach Pat Casey that being passed over in the 2012 baseball draft might be the best thing that happened to him.
Rest assured, Smith hardly felt that way last June. Not hearing his named called during the draft chafed the shortstop, but the experience also provided plenty of motivation.
“I worked hard in the summer to get as good as I could possibly get,” Smith said. “I came back knowing that this could be the last year that I ever got a chance to play.
“I wanted to go out with a bang and maybe get someone to believe in me. Fortunately, that's what happened.”
As Smith's collegiate career winds to a close in Omaha, the shortstop knows there will be more baseball in his future. His standout senior season led the Seattle Mariners to pick him in the eighth round of the first-year player draft.
At this point, the Mariners are going to have to wait. Smith wants to do everything he can to extend the Beavers' stay in Omaha. He had a couple of hits and drove in a run Monday as Oregon State posted an 11-4 elimination-game win over Louisville.
The victory moved the Beavers into Wednesday's 7 p.m. Bracket One game against Indiana. Oregon State will be assured of another couple of days in Omaha with a win.
“When I saw my name get called, it was a thrill,” Smith said. “I'm excited for that, but I'm more excited to keep it going here in Omaha.”
Having a player of Smith's caliber is one of the reasons the Beavers made it to the CWS for the first time since 2007. He is Oregon State's fourth-leading hitter with a .315 average. His play has anchored the Beavers' defense as he has committed just 11 errors in 252 chances.
What isn't as easily measured are the intangibles the Californian brings to the lineup.
“Smitty just does a lot of things for us,” Casey said. “When he came here, he was unsure. He was a second baseman and shortstop in high school. He didn't have the same swagger and confidence that he has now. And he's going to take that with him to professional baseball.
“He's certainly the guy that anybody in the country would want in the middle of the diamond and hitting in the one hole.”
Smith admits he was surprised last June when he went undrafted. He was coming off a solid junior season in which he hit .343 and earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors for an Oregon State team that lost in an NCAA super regional.
That, along with the draft snub, left Smith with a double dose of disappointment.
“I flushed it real quickly,” Smith said. “I went out, played summer ball and worked really hard.”
Casey chipped in by stressing the positives that Smith's return to Corvallis would mean, not only to him but his teammates.
“I kept telling him the best thing that ever happened was last year he didn't get drafted,” Casey said. “I knew he'd come back, be more of a leader and more possessed to prove to people that he could play.”
Smith has done that and, in the process, joined fellow seniors Ryan Barnes, Max Gordon, Danny Hayes and Matt Boyd in providing the direction that helped drive the Beavers back to Omaha.
This season hasn't been all roses for Smith. A broken left hand kept him out of the starting lineup for a dozen games in late March and early April. The Beavers managed to keep winning but Casey acknowledges they weren't the same team without Smith as they were with him.
His teammates value the presence he brings on and off the field. Ben Wetzler, the winning pitcher against Louisville, said he was lobbying Smith to return to Oregon State even before he got snubbed in the draft.
“I told him last year, 'Hey, you better come back,'” Wetzler told MLB.com. “I don't care what they're offering you, I'll pay you double to take us to Omaha.”
As it turned out, no one offered Smith anything except a little extra motivation for his senior season. As it turned out, he and his teammates are ending their season in Omaha.
“It's turned out,” Smith said with a smile, “to be a pretty cool experience.”
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