By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. — Altoona Curve relief pitcher Josh Smith is not your typical Class AA minor league player.
At 26, he’s one of the oldest players on the Curve roster. He’s also a college graduate, with a degree in sports management, is married to his high school sweetheart, and is the father of a 1-year-old daughter.
His pro baseball career has seen both ups and downs, but he’s confident in his game, noting “the past is past and I’m just looking forward.”
Now in his second season with the Curve, and fifth pro year overall, Smith had a 1-2 record and 4.05 ERA as of June 23.
“I think I’m where I need to be as far as my delivery and where my body needs to be,” Smith said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“Sometimes they (opponents) get you, but there’s a lot of season left,” he said, “and I’m confident I’m where I need to be.”
Curve pitching coach Justin Meccage has been Smith’s mentor most of his career, having worked with him at short-season State College and high-A Bradenton as well as two years in Altoona.
“I changed my arm slot and mechanics in my delivery before 2014 (Bradenton),” Smith said. “I had two weeks to figure things out in spring training, then I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
“Meccage was the one who recommended the arm slot change and we’ve worked on it. He’s helped me a lot and stuck with me.”
Smith’s best season was 2014 at Bradenton where he went 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA and 8 saves in 35 games, all in relief. He was a mid-season all-star in the Florida State League.
The 2015 season in Altoona didn’t start well as he had a 13.50 ERA in April in 6 games. However, his season turned around in August and September when he allowed just three hits and no runs over 14 1/3 innings. He finished the season on a 17-inning scoreless streak dating back to July 20.
A native of Kansas City, MO., Smith went to Wichita State as a walk-on after a successful career at a small class A high school. He was a three-sport standout — football, basketball and baseball—at Pleasant Hill High School.
“Basketball was my favorite since I was about 8 years old,” he said, “but I learned I couldn’t compete with a lot of those guys so I stuck with baseball.”
He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 26th round of the 2011 draft, but didn’t sign. He went back for his senior year at Wichita and the Pirates picked him in the 25th round in 2012.
“It paid off,” Smith said, noting he earned his degree before the Pirates chose him.
“Wichita was a great experience for me,” he said. “I earned my degree in sports management and did a pre internship with the Arena Football League. I really liked it, but after being around baseball so long, I think it would be hard to walk away from the game.”
Curve manager Joey Cora says Smith has a future in the game, “if he can throw strikes consistently.”
“He’s got to get left-handed batters out on a consistent basis,” Cora noted. “If he can do that, he has a future at the next level.
“Lefties (relievers) in the big leagues throw about 30 innings a year, and make a lot of money,” Cora quipped, “so he’s got to throw strikes and be nasty against lefties.”
Whether he’s had a good outing or bad outing, Smith knows what it will be like when he goes home after a game to wife Andrea and daughter Harper Lynn, who was 1 in May.
“When she (baby) smiles, I forget everything,” he said. “It’s great to have them here.”