Hardnosed Mike Smith, NAFA Hall of Famer and 20th Year Anniversary selection

Written by Bob on July 25th, 2012

“…He’s an absolute fighter.” – Matt Dailey

ALLENTOWN, PA – He’s been called tough and hardnosed. The kind of guy every ball club needs: determined, driven. A winner.

That sums up Mike Smith.

“He’s a grinder,” says Mike “Kusy” Kusmuk, who teamed with Smith for several years on D.C. Tire and the Reading (PA) Sunners.

“He’s a tremendous competitor who plays to win, and he’s hardnosed.”

Kusy remembers just how tough Smith can be. It was in an Allentown tournament when they first met over 25 years a go. Kusy’s team against Smith’s team. Kusy’s swinging a hot bat and goes 2 for 3 off Smith.

And Smith didn’t much like it.

“I had a good game against him and afterwards at a bar he walks up to where I’m sitting and says, ‘whose this Kusy!’” Kusy said. “I said, ‘I’m right here pal.’ We had to be separated but we laugh about it now.” Both have long since become best friends on and off the ball diamond.

BASEBALL’S LOSS, FASTBALL’S GAIN
That toughness, that hardnosed attitude has carried Smith far in fastpitch. But as a youngster, he chose baseball. But his high school coach didn’t choose him, instead cutting him during tryouts, citing his size. But instead of giving up his bat, ball and glove, Smith turned to fastpitch.

“That was the best thing that ever happened to me, getting cut because the coach said I was too small for catcher,” Smith said.

Just 16 at the time, Smith played church league fastpitch, then in an Allentown league. And before long, a legendary manager came calling: Rocco Santilli of the Reading Sunners.

Not because Smith possessed Mickey Mantle-like talent. But because he could do the one thing many fastball players can’t: Play every position.

“Mike played whatever position you needed,” said Santilli, an ASA Hall of Fame manager. “He played third base, catcher, second base, pitcher… You could put him at any position and he could do the job.”

NAFA HALL OF FAMER AND ANNIVERSARY SELECTION
That willingness to play wherever the manager points has taken Smith far – so far in fact, that in 2011 the North American Fastpitch Association inducted him into the NAFA Hall of Fame. But that’s not all. On July 17, 2012, NAFA announced it’s 20th Year Anniversary Team. And Smith was one of 36 players honored who have performed at exceptionally high levels over the organization’s 20 year existence – from 1993 to 2012.

“I was blown away when I found out,” said the 47-year-old Smith. “This is a great honor to be in the Hall of Fame with some great people. And it’s a great honor to be named to the anniversary team along with the rest of the players. Most of them I have played against at one time or another.”

Smith has competed in 14 NAFA World Series. His accomplishments are many: AAA-Division All-World four times; AA All-World and Most Valuable Pitcher, once each. And the teams he has pitched and played for have won NAFA World Series championships in the AAA, AA, and Masters age 40-older divisions.

Mike Dailey has been a Smith teammate for 25 years on teams such as D.C. Tire, the Boston Matarazzo Seadogs, CanAm Windmillers and Quaker (PA) Riversharks.

“I’ve seen Mike strike out and then hit a home run to win a national championship,” said Dailey, a shortstop. “I’ve seen him pitch and give up a go-ahead run and then strike out the next three batters. I’ve seen him lose games and win big games.

“But the one thing I never saw him do was quit. He’s an absolute fighter.”

WONDERFUL FASTPITCH MEMORIES
Smith says his career is winding down. But the memories live on. And there’s been a few delectable plums that he will always savor.

Like the 2004 NAFA AA World Series in which he pitched the Quaker Riversharks to second place. Abruptly, one of the Riversharks’ pitchers left the tournament. Smith was handed the ball and asked to carry the load. And he did, pitching 56 innings in four days; tallying 28 consecutive innings on the final day. He was selected Most Valuable Pitcher AND Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

But winning an ASA national championship 13 years earlier is also special. Playing for D.C. Tire in the 1992 Class A National Tournament, he was selected a first-team All American pitcher and the Most Valuable Player of the tournament for his 3-0 record on the rubber, and a hit he’s always remembered.

“One of the biggest highlights in my career was hitting a walk-off, solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Lodi (Calif.) 4-3 in the championship,” Smith said.

TEAM USA AND STOFFLET’S HELP
Perhaps though, his biggest thrill comes from wearing a uniform embroidered with three big, bold letters. In 1989, Smith played for Team USA in the World Cup in Saskatoon, Canada, he said.

“It was a big honor wearing USA across my chest,” he said. “We finished third and beat New Zealand and Chub Tangaroa 1-0. I didn’t do anything special. New Zealand had their guns loaded. It was a major upset.”

As a pitcher, Smith considers himself a student of the game. And it didn’t hurt to learn from the legendary Ty Stofflet (ISC and ASA Hall of Fame pitcher) when Smith played for the Sunners.

“Ty showed me the grips and how to throw this pitch and that pitch,” Smith said, adding that he played with the Sunners from 1986 to 1990. “Watching him throw (while playing) third base and catching him a few times helped me learn how to set up hitters.

“Ty kept it simple. He told me that you can’t step on the rubber and expect to be good. You’ve got to work at it.”

Smith – a right-hander – worked hard. He threw pitch after pitch against a brick wall. He learned all the pitches with his drop ball emerging as his best. And he threw hours of batting practice to his teammates.

“Throwing batting practice before games really helped,” he said. “It was batting practice for the hitters and pitching practice for me.”

FIVE ALL-TIME GREATS
Smith has both teamed up with and played against some pitchers whose ability is humbling. He says that Stofflet, Darren Zack and Paul Algar are three of fastballs’ all-time great pitchers.

“These guys are competitors who have that fire,” Smith said. “It would take a tow truck to get them off the mound.”

As for hitters, he goes back a few decades to the likes of Jeff Seip and Jay Herr. Both, he says, were tough outs and exceptional clutch hitters.

“Early in my career, Jeff Seip (2009 ASA Hall of Fame) was one of the most feared hitters on the Sunners,” Smith said. “There was this game in the local (Allentown) league and I thought I had him struck out on a called third strike, but the umpire called it a ball. Then he hits a 350-foot home run that is still going.”

Smith may have given up a few home runs in his time. But he’s more than evened the score by hitting 265 homers. Along with winning 425 games in the circle, including 31 no-hitters and eight perfect games, while notching 4,300 strikeouts.

Along with his 14 NAFA World Series tournaments, he’s played in 20 ISC World Tournaments, five ASA Class A, and 13 ASA Major national tournaments.

What does it all mean to this hardnosed ball player taking his leave from the sport he’s loved and played for over 30 years?

“Fastpitch has taken me places all across the U.S. and Canada,” Smith said. “I will miss my fraternity of brothers and I will always miss the camaraderie.”

And the game shall miss Mike Smith.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  1. Susan von Hemert says:

    I’m proud to have Mike as a brother!

  2. Rich Freyling says:

    Just like Mike’s sister said I am very proud to have Mike as a friend. I never had the chance to play softball with Mike but I have seen his tenacity and commitment on the golf course. God bless those who had to bat against him. Congratulations Mike you earned it.

  3. Sarah Natt says:

    Way to go Uncle Mike. We are so proud of you! XO

  4. Phil von Hemert says:

    Eight perfect games. Who knew? Mike is such a modest guy. I have to find out what’s going on from Grace, his mom. Congratulations, Mike.

  5. Frank Fiore says:

    Congrats Mike…..Well deserved….

  6. Dorothy E Duffy says:

    You surely deserve every bit and then some. You were always a great player. Eddie passed last year, but he loved to watch you play. And you know he went all over the country. Lots of luck to you in your future endeavors.

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