Throwback Thursday: Paul Smyth
July 7, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
California native Paul Smyth was a stand-out relief pitcher for Kansas from 2006-09. During his final three seasons, Smyth served as the Jayhawk closer and racked up 27 career saves in 129 appearances. Smyth was drafted by the Oakland Athletics organization in the 35th round of the 2009 MLB first year player draft. He currently plays for the Oakland Athletics Double-A affiliate, the Midland RockHounds of the Texas League and has returned to Lawrence the past two off-seasons to work as an intern within the athletic department.
What do you miss the most about playing in the Jayhawk baseball program?
“I definitely would say I miss the people in the program the most. The whole Jayhawk community was all so accommodating when I played and was just such a supportive group. They were with me the whole way from the recruiting process through graduation and actually beyond that, as I have worked in a couple internships for them. They have always been there to support me in every way that they could, so it really felt like a family away from my own in California.”
What would you say was the biggest adjustment going from college to minor league baseball?
“Honestly I would have to say two things struck me as the most different, the lifestyle and the wooden bats of course. The lifestyle is the biggest because in college everything is set out for you schedule wise from study hours to when the busses leave, but once you get to the level of playing professional baseball, there are times you have to be a grown-up and do everything on your own. That means that your scheduling is on you, when you are not at the ballpark. That means if you are late for things, the punishment is not going running like it would be in college. Instead there are monetary fines, so it is more of a grown-up take on things and everything is just individually based.”
What is your favorite memory from your KU playing days?
“I would say the moment that stands out in my mind would be during my freshman when we won the Big 12 Tournament (2006). That experience is something I will never forget because we went in as an underdog and we ended up beating like three teams that were in the Top 25 during our run. To go out there and play the way we did just showed the determination that the team had throughout the year and the talent that was behind it.”
What do you do to keep busy during the winter?
“I actually have come back to Lawrence during the past two off-seasons. I was drafted in 2009 and have been fortunate enough to come back during the winter and work for (Associate AD) Sean Lester, as well as helping out the marketing department and working game-day events during the basketball season.”
What about being a student-athlete at Kansas did you enjoy the most?
“I would say just putting on that uniform every day is something pretty special. Being a part of that history and that very supportive Jayhawk fan base, is a great feeling. After playing pro-ball for a few years and talking to other players, who went to other universities around the country, you talk with them about their experiences and you come to find out that there are very few that match-up with the kind of memories you make here at the University of Kansas.”
Do you miss playing baseball in February? (When the college baseball season starts)
“The cold is something I definitely do not have to deal with anymore now that we have spring training in Arizona and I play in Midland, Texas. To be honest with you though, playing in the cold was all about preparation more than anything because Coach Price has always been willing to run guys out there. I remember throwing in an intrasquad game one year and there was actually hail bouncing off the bill of my cap. I just sat there and just kind of had one of those moments where I said to myself, ‘Am I really doing this?’ There would definitely be times though where we would be shagging BP (batting practice), in our leggings, baseball pants, jackets, beanies and baseball caps, but then later in the season that would pay dividends because I would realize that if I could play in that, I could play in anything.”
Who has longer road trips… the Jayhawks or the RockHounds?
“Definitely the RockHounds. The Jayhawks have had some interesting ones when we would go to Hawaii or drive to the Metrodome, like we did my sophomore year. In the Texas league, where the RockHounds are now, we are the farthest west of any other team so we have to make some pretty long bus trips because no one is flying. We take trips out to Springdale, Arkansas and Springfield, Missouri, so there are some 12-13 hour road trips where you just hunker down and hope you have your own seat and you do not have to double up with another teammate. “
Describe the mentality of closer and how it is so different from any other position…
“Well closing was something that I was not too familiar with until I arrived at college. I had always been a reliever but I did not really start pitching until I was in high school. When I came to KU I was lucky enough to watch Don Czyz close, who was an All-American my freshman year. I remember sitting down with him a few times to talk about closing, because I knew that I would be taking over that role my sophomore year and we talked about just having to be something that you are not. I say that because you definitely have to go out there and have a tenacious mentality and feel like you can shut down anyone in the world with a 110% effort in every outing.
For me, I would get a little sick or nauseous before I came in because of my nerves. By the time I was done with my outing, I would feel like I was out there for three hours… when I was really just on the mound for ten minutes because I was so involved mentally and physically. It is a funny thing because even though I had done it a million times, I would always feel nervous going into a game to close. Then once you get onto the mound all the nerves were gone.”
Who has been your favorite teammate to play with (college or pro) thus far?
I would have to say Buck Afenir, who was my catcher all four years at Kansas. He became one of my closest friends in the world and I still keep in touch with him. We are both from California and since he was the catcher and I was the closer, we were able to relate to each other on different levels.”
Funniest baseball prank you ever pulled or had done to you….
“There have been some funny ones over the years, like putting eye black in and under the helmets, but without going into too much detail I would have to say the ‘banana war’ during my senior year at KU was probably the most epic. The war was just amongst a couple guys on the team, including me and we would place the fruit in different areas so it would catch a player by surprise. We called that getting ‘banana’ed’. It sounds pretty juvenile but it got quite creative to say the least.”
How often do you travel back to Lawrence and catch a game at Hoglund?
It is tough for me to see a game in Lawrence during the season, because it would take me away from my club, but I actually went down (to Fort Worth, Texas) and saw them play this year when they took on number one ranked TCU early on in the season.
The changes I have seen and heard about though, since I left have been amazing. The field is brand new, there are padded walls and we have a new scoreboard and clubhouse, so those are all great improvements. Coach Price has also done a lot of great things within the program and he is on a mission to see that KU becomes a powerhouse program and I do not see anyone getting in his way to accomplish that.”
If you had one piece of advice to give a current KU baseball player, looking to play professionally, what would it be?
“I would probably just tell them to stick with it because anything is possible. I was not a big recruit coming out of high school to go to KU and Ritch Price just gave me a chance to play and to prove myself. I just decided to stick with it, play hard every day and keep convincing myself that it was all going to pay off in the end in one way or another. Even in ’09, I was a late round pick (35th), but I have still seen great improvements in my game. With that said, I think if you just stick with it, and know that anything is possible, you will have a chance to go places because that is the best mentality to have.”