After six seasons with Mets, Smith "thankful" in return to Citi Field

NEW YORK – Dominic Smith is familiar with Citi Field. It’s the only home major league ballpark he’s ever known. That is at least until this season.

For the first time in his career when he arrived at Citi Field yesterday for the Nationals’ opener against the Mets, he came down the tunnel from the team bus in the left field corner and entered the visitor’s clubhouse instead of going all the way around to the first base-side home clubhouse, like he had during his six seasons with the Mets.

“It feels good, it was good. It feels good to be back,” Smith said yesterday in front of his new locker at Citi Field.

“Going in the back way was definitely a different way for me to go in. The tunnel, everything was a little bit different today. But yeah, you definitely do have memories when you come back here. Obviously, I was drafted here and I remember coming here after I got drafted 17, 18 years old, so it's pretty fun still being able to come back here and play baseball.”

Smith was the Mets’ first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) out of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., in 2013. He would make his major league debut with the Mets four summers later on this very field as one of the organization’s top prospects.

But Smith never quite lived up to those lofty expectations of a first-round pick and top prospect. In six seasons in New York, he slashed .245/.309/.414 with a .723 OPS, 46 home runs and ​​183 RBIs. His best season came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, when he slashed .316/.377/.616 with a .993 OPS, 10 homers and 42 RBIs to finish 13th in National League MVP voting.

Despite the lack of overall success, Smith still thinks fondly of his time with the Mets.

“I would just say that my time with the Mets was just some of the biggest memories of my life and something that I just have to forever be grateful for,” he said. “It made me, I feel like, the man I am today and helped me deal with adversity and just learn how to seek true happiness. So I think it made me all around just a better person being here.”

Here is now Washington, where he signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Nationals after the Mets non-tendered him following last season.

Despite the slow start to this season with his new team (he’s hitting just .234 with .564 OPS, no home runs and seven RBIs over his first 20 games), is the change of scenery what he needed to recapture his potential?

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Smith said. “And I'm just very blessed and thankful just to still be here, still be in the big leagues and still have an opportunity to play and win ballgames. So I'm extremely happy. I'm very thankful for the Washington Nationals organization for giving me the opportunity and a chance to come out here and play. I just want to help these young guys, help myself and the whole organization get back to where we were in 2019.”

“He’s been awesome, he really has,” manager Davey Martinez said of Smith. “He’s come as advertised. Great teammate, nobody gives him credit for his defense. But he’s been playing phenomenal defense over at first base. It’s early in the season. We’re going to get him right with his swing. I know he can hit. I’m proud of the way he’s going about his business – he never gets down, he keeps focusing on the day and on the game, and that’s all we ask him.”

Smith did his best to keep his emotions in check during last night’s series opener. He drew a five-pitch walk in his first plate appearance and finished the night 1-for-4 with a single in the fifth. That was his first taste of this rivalry from the Nationals’ side, a matchup he didn’t look forward to as a member of the Mets.

“Oh, man, I did not like playing the Nationals when I was with the Mets,” said Smith, who was a career .226 hitter with a .657 OPS, three homers and 15 RBIs in 49 games against the Nats. “They had great pitching, great offense, so it was always a dogfight. So now being on this side, I want to make it tough for those guys as well.”

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