ELIZABETHTOWN — Everyone agreed on Wednesday that Sincere Smith’s hard work is about to start. But first, the gathering at Russell and Doll Priest’s home brought together family, friends, coaches and well-wishers for a celebration of Smith’s next chapter in life.
Last week, Smith was drafted in the 32nd round of the Major League Baseball draft by the New York Yankees. He recently signed the offer from the Yankees — which included an $85,000 signing bonus and four years of college paid for.
Smith is scheduled to leave for Tampa, Fla., on Sunday — one day after his graduation from East Bladen — and report to the Yankees’ spring training facility. He will play for the Yankees’ rookie team in the Gulf Coast League at a monthly salary of $700.
“He’ll need to get real serious and work hard to make the most of this opportunity,” said Russell Priest, Smith’s high-school coach.”Everyone there will be as good or better than he is now — but I think he can do it; he’s going to be pushed from day one.”
Smith grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, primarily because his favorite player was outfielder Andrew McCutcheon —who is now in San Francisco.
“Baseball has always been my favorite sport,” Smith said. “And this is really a dream I’ve had all my life.”
Prior to the recent MLB draft, Smith said he was shown strong interest from both the Yankees and Oakland A’s, “but I didn’t care what team selected me … I just wanted the opportunity,” he said.
The Yankees have Smith pegged as a centerfielder, a position he played with the Eagles as a junior. During his senior season, he played mostly shortstop. As a senior, Smith batted .528 with seven doubles, three triples and 16 RBIs from the lead-off spot; he was also 31-for-33 in stolen base attempts.
“He’s got the tools — plenty of athleticism and speed,” said Robby Priest, an assistant baseball coach and head football coach at East Bladen. “But there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Smith knows what he has to do when he puts on that Yankees uniform.
“I have to work on my hitting,” he said. “Hitting the curveball has always been tough.”
Smith added that he’s been getting plenty of advice from everyone he runs into.
“They tell me things like be early, listen to the coaches and work hard,” Smith said. “I’m trying not to think too far ahead right now; I’m just excited to have the shot.”
But there was one guest at Wednesday’s get-together who got Smith’s ear with some been-there-done-that credibility.
Saquan Johnson, who was drafted in the 28th round out of East Bladen by the Texas Rangers in 2014 gave Smith his best advice.
“I told him to always work hard, even when he didn’t think the coaches were watching — because they are always watching,” Johnson said. “They don’t miss anything.
“I also told him it’s good to make friends on the team, but he’s still competing for a job against them,” Johnson added. “He’s got a great chance right now — it was really good for me — but what happens along the way is up to him.”
On Wednesday, Smith not only got a chance to mingle with those he’s become closest with over the years, but he also had his first interview and signed his first autograph as a professional baseball player. And when he was asked, “in a few years, when Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner start to consider retirement, who do you want to see stepping in to play centerfield for tie Yankees?” he was pretty adamant.
“Me!” he said, beaming his almost ever-present smile.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.