It’s common during homestands to find Nationals players out and about in D.C., getting active in the community. The organization has been committed to giving back to the area for a long time, centered around its Youth Baseball Academy.
But the players don’t have to be at the academy to get involved in youth baseball around town. That’s why Dominic Smith and other Nats players found themselves in Livingston Park in Chevy Chase yesterday morning with a group of Capitol City Little League kids – my 8-year-old nephew Jack included – ahead of their late-afternoon game.
“I had a great time today,” Smith said Saturday before the Nats’ 5-2 win over the Tigers. “Over there, Capitol City Little League, got to see a bunch of different age groups from like 8 to like 12. And just to see them, see the energy that they brought, I kind of fed off of that and I had a great time. Those kids are very competitive. They got some really good coaches out there because some of those swings were really impressive, especially for the age groups. And it was just fun. It was a great day to just spend some time with them and get to show them who I am as a person because sometimes they don't get to see stuff like that.”
Smith and the kids went through typical baseball drills like hitting balls off a practice tee. It must feel good as a kid to get a couple of good hacks in and have a major leaguer be impressed by your swing.
And the kids should be impressed by Smith’s swing as of late. Before yesterday’s 0-for-4 outing, he had been hitting .343 over his previous 20 games to raise his batting average by 54 points.
It was also important for him to get out and play with the kids, rather than hanging out with them in a meet-and-greet-type situation.
“Oh, it's awesome,” he said. “Like I said, I got to see their athleticism. This generation of kids are just way more, I don't want to say gifted or talented or just advanced. But they are and it's just fun to see how just mature they are. How they adapt, how quickly they adapt and just how they really pay attention to notice things. Because you could tell that they have obviously watched a lot of baseball or trained a lot because they're swings are really good and they throw like professionals. And like I said, they're 8-9-10 years old. It's just hats off to Capitol City Little League, the board members that were there, who do a great job making sure that they're playing, think, year-round and they're competing and they obviously have good coaches. So like I said, it's a great place to be, to bring your kid and I had a great time with them.”
This is Smith’s first season with the Nats, and he’s only been around the D.C. community since the team returned from spring training in late March. But no matter where he’s playing, he thinks it’s important to be active in the community and give back to young kids.
Because Smith was once one of those kids himself. Growing up in Los Angeles, he attended similar events held by the Dodgers. That inspired him to be a major league player and to start his own non-profit, Baseball Generations, which supports player development for financially underprivileged players.
“I think that's one of my mission statements,” he said. “That's the reason why I started a nonprofit foundation, as well. That's something that's big to me. I remember growing up in Los Angeles, California and seeing Matt Kemp come and Clayton Kershaw and all these guys come to their youth academy when I was 12-13 years old. And those are some memories that stuck with me to this day and made me want to be a big leaguer. Just them spending that little bit of time, it just made me love the game and made me work harder. And I just felt like sometimes that we could give our time to inspire some youth, you don't know, it could change their life. So like I said, I had a great time with them. And they're fun. They're very entertaining, I should say. Kids, they're creative nowadays for sure.”
Smith at least changed one 8-year-old boy’s life yesterday. Jack’s dad’s family is from the Cleveland area, so he’s being groomed as a Guardians fan. We all went to a game together when the Guardians were in town in April for my birthday. Of course, they all wore their Cleveland gear. He does keep track of the Nats for my sake and the Orioles for his other aunts and uncles’ sakes.
But yesterday may have been a turning point for young Jack.
After the event where he got to hit with Smith, take pictures and get an autographed ball, Jack said he’s a “major, major Nats fan” now and that he’ll always be a fan of Dominic Smith.
It’s just a few small gestures and a couple of hours out of his day, but Smith’s quick Saturday morning visit certainly made a lasting impact on some young ballplayers. And he’ll continue to build off that, inviting them to the July 9 game against the Rangers before the All-Star break where he hopes to reconnect with some of the young players he met today.
“It means a lot. It means the world,” Smith said. “This is why I do it. This is why I go out every day, I grind and I go play. It's not really for me. It's for the fans. It's for the kids that aspire to be like me. And I want to hear things like that. It makes my heart feel warm and it just means the world to me for sure.”
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