Toronto's Tim Smith has his sights set on the majors
By Chris Toman, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Doubt him. It wouldn't be the first time, and it probably won't be the last.
For Tim Smith, it's a source of motivation.
Smith has gone from a boy playing competitive baseball in Toronto to a man playing professionally for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Kansas City Royals' Double-A affiliate. And while he sees himself as an underdog, he refuses to buy into the skeptics who overlook him.
"When people don't have any expectations of me, or don't consider me a threat, it makes me smile in the long run," said Smith, who has played in the minor leagues since 2007. "You see prospect lists, all-stars named - all the bragging-right stuff, and some people get offended when they aren't a part of it all. It just makes me want to outplay all those guys and prove everybody wrong when the year is done."
He's well on his way to doing that - again.
Smith, 25, is batting .294 with eight home runs, 39 RBIs and eight stolen bases over 57 games for the Naturals. Over 24 games in June, Smith is sporting a .341 average to go along with five homers, 26 RBIs and a .976 on- base plus slugging percentage (OPS). And while he might not have the pedigree of other prospects in the game, he's hit at least .300 in three consecutive seasons (a career .304 minor league hitter), and is a two-time All-Star.
"I've never doubted myself in any aspect," the Toronto native said. "I'm a go- getter. If there's something I want in life, you better believe I'm going to give it my all to get it."
So far, he's gotten what he's wanted - the chance to play professional baseball for a living. But he won't be satisfied until he gets a call up to the majors.
"I'm playing to put on a big league uniform, not a minor league jersey," said Smith, a former member of the Canadian Junior National Team. "If you don't have the hunger to move up, you're probably in the wrong business."
However, Smith knows it's best to temper expectations in a sport like baseball that's full of ups and downs.
"You have to be extremely mentally tough to be successful in this game," stressed Smith, who is playing for his second organization since getting traded from the Texas Rangers in September 2009. "Thinking too deep into decisions that are out of your hands can cause stress and anxiety, so it's best to be even keel about it."
When the times get tough and Smith needs someone to pick him up, there's always one person there for him unconditionally - his father, Doug. Smith's father, who was there to support him every game when he was younger, is still there to offer the words of encouragement he needs now.
"I've got to give the credit to my dad," said Smith, without any hesitation. "He's been there all the time. I'll be going through rough patches, and I'll have that 10-minute voice mail from him. He knows what I'm doing whether he's here or not, and he's just such a good person.
"It's really good to have a person like that in my corner, you really need others, too. You start to realize when you're older that people care about you, and that's a good feeling. When you have that respect factor and trust with somebody, it really helps you get through those tough days."
There are others whom Smith would like to credit as well, but to name some, would be excluding many. He says there are plenty of people he appreciates and has trusted throughout his career. And while the average person might dismiss Smith as someone who has the talent for the next level, he says the ones who really know him have complete confidence in his future.
"The average Joe doesn't see all the extra time I put in," said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Smith. "I haven't had much handed to me in life, so I've had to create my own path, with help from close ones, of course. The people that do know me personally understand the drive and love for the game I bring every day."
He's played with current big leaguers Brett Wallace (Houston Astros), Mitch Moreland (Texas Rangers) and Ike Davis (New York Mets) to name some, and is playing for what many talent evaluators feel is baseball's best farm system in Kansas City. The Royals have already promoted some of their best young talent to the majors this season, while Smith keeps putting in work and waiting his turn.
"I think you really mature as a person when it (baseball) becomes your job and lifestyle," Smith said. "There's been some days where I've been in a slump for a couple of weeks and I'm just down on everything, but going through that experience of slumps, you start to really figure things out in the big picture.
"Things could be a lot worse. When times are rough, I can look back and remember how many kids would just die to be in my shoes right now that I grew up playing with. I'm pretty grateful that I got this situation that I've been put in and I'm thankful for every minute of it."
As he continues to mature as a person, he does so as a ballplayer, too, with his numbers undoubtedly reaping the benefits.
Last season, Smith felt like the one area he had to improve on was his power, but said he knew that part of his game would come eventually.
He was right, as he's on pace to surpass his career high of 13 home runs in 2008 while playing for the Clinton LumberKings, a former Texas Rangers Class-A affiliate of the Midwest League.
Smith doesn't care what people think of his game or the chances of him fulfilling his dream. What he cares about is completing that dream.
He believes in himself, and as he keeps moving up the system, he's forcing others to do the same.
"You got to take every day in stride and chip away," Smith said.
A couple more chips and that dream of playing in the major leagues will become a reality.