John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If Dominic Smith were to be completely honest, he might say that he was hoping to get traded over the winter.
After all, even after something of a breakthrough season with the bat in 2019, his playing time is blocked every which way as a Met, with Pete Alonso at first base and a crowded outfield that might once again include Yoenis Cespedes.
But Smith offered no hint of any such desire when I spoke to him last week in Port St. Lucie, and good for him for trying to make the best of what could be a frustrating situation.
"I could sit here and be a cancer in the clubhouse and cause problems," he said, "but what good would that do, for the team, and for my career? That would be dumb to do, so I just want to have fun playing in the major leagues.
"It's something children dream of doing, something every adult wants to be able to do. It's something you can't take for granted, and I don't. I appreciate it. I'm 24 years old and I'm in the big leagues. That's pretty good."
Those aren't empty words, either, for Smith endeared himself to teammates and fans last year as his happy-go-lucky personality made him an important part of the clubhouse chemistry that became such a big storyline last summer when the Mets made their wild card run.
Indeed, who will forget Smith making his way onto the field on his rehab scooter during one wild walk-off celebration, wheeling his way around the mayhem on a contraption designed to give him mobility with an injured foot.
I remember asking him a few days later how he'd even gotten up the dugout steps with the scooter.
"It wasn't easy," he said with his trademark smile.
Smith, Alonso, and J.D. Davis were perhaps the most integral players in creating what felt like a genuine team-first camaraderie last season, which could well be the start of a winning culture for this team in years to come.
Then last week that camaraderie was on display during an ESPN All-Access telecast as players were mic'd up during the Mets-Cardinals Grapefruit League game.
Because Alonso was given his own segment during the show, Jeff McNeil was used a couple of innings later to complete a mic'd-up trio with Smith and Davis, as ESPN had the three of them talk back and forth while the Mets were in the field on defense.
Smith was in left field, McNeil was at second base, and Davis was in the dugout, still recovering from a shoulder injury. The result was more hilarity than even ESPN could have hoped for, in large part because Smith was willing to start the party by needling his two teammates.
He got on Davis for milking his injury. He told the world that McNeil hates his Squirrel nickname. In response his teammates fired back and some lively conversation ensued for an inning or so.
Finally, Smith was still mic'd during an at-bat in the bottom of the inning, telling everyone he was guessing first-pitch fastball, then ripping a liner that was caught at the fence in left while Davis screamed at the slimmed down Smith, "If you weren't so skinny that would have gone out."
It was legitimately funny give-and-take, so much so that Smith, whose earpiece went in-and-out on him, made a point of later watching a tape of the segment to see what he'd missed.
"The best part is it was natural because that's just what we do on an everyday basis," Smith told me. "I think that's why this team is so close. We all just get along and love having fun together, playing with each other.
"A lot of us came up together so it's kind of a neat situation when we can grind through the rigorous minor leagues and make it to the big leagues together. A lot of us are around the same age, we have a lot of things in common, and we have a good time."
All of that makes it easier for Smith to deal with what could be a season spent mostly on the bench. In 2019 he proved he could hit with impact when injuries gave him a shot mostly in the outfield, putting up an .881 OPS in 89 games before being sidelined himself with his foot injury, all of which prompted speculation he might be traded during the offseason.
A team source said the Mets "did our due diligence" regarding Smith, meaning they floated his name in trade talks but apparently felt his value was greater for them as injury insurance than in any type of deal.
The good news for Smith is that he's confident he's got plenty of career ahead of him, after returning to the hitting style that made him a first-round pick out of high school back in 2013 rather than try to sell out for home runs, as he did in his first couple of go-rounds in the big leagues.
"I just got back to what got me here," he said. "Using the whole field rather than trying to be a pull-power guy. Just trusting my hands and my ability to hit.
"I feel good about that. Whatever happens now, we'll see. At the end of the day all I know is this is the team I want to be on. It's going to be an exciting year for us."
One thing for sure: if and when the fun breaks out during the long season, Smith will be right in the middle of it.