There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2013-14 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.
This week: Gopher outfielder Jordan Smith
If there were such an award, Jordan Smith would be the hands-down winner this season for MVP — most versatile player honors — on the Gophers baseball team. The redshirt freshman from Eden Prairie, Minnesota has played all three outfield positions.
“He’s an outstanding defender out there,” assessed Coach John Anderson. “He’s a glider out there — it doesn’t look like he’s going full speed. There’s not a lot of effort that goes into it, but he gets a great jump on the ball and closes on the ball very well.”
In last weekend’s series at Indiana, Smith “robbed” two Hoosier batters of extra base hits — one by a diving catch in a game in which he also went two-for-four at the plate, and again later when he snatched down a home-run ball with a leaping catch off the wall.
“I wouldn’t say [what is] my least favorite [position], but I played center field for the first time in a while [earlier this season], and now it’s probably my favorite position,” said Smith on the part of the outfield with the most ground to cover. “The ball is coming right at you, so it’s a little easier to track it as well. Left and right are pretty similar.”
“He has deceptive speed,” said his coach.
Fourth-seeded Minnesota begins play on Wednesday in the Big Ten baseball tournament in Lincoln, Neb. against fifth-seeded Michigan. “We have been playing pretty well lately,” said Smith.
Sitting out last year helped Smith — it allowed him to watch and learn. “The outfield last year was mostly upperclassmen, a lot of older guys, and I learned a lot from them,” he recalled.
“He’s a fun young man to coach. He keeps a good learning attitude and doesn’t get frustrated when things don’t go his way,” noted Anderson, adding that Smith’s plate mechanics is improving as well. “Now he’s trying to learn how to handle quality pitching and put together a good plan and approach, and how to make some adjustments on the run.”
This year he got to play on Siebert Field’s new turf. “They tried to get it as close to [natural] grass as possible,” assessed Smith. “When they groomed it, it’s pretty bouncy. But once it gets matted down a little bit, it plays pretty much like a natural grass surface.”
He added that he’s gotten faster since being in college: “Actually, I was pretty slow in high school. Since I got here, I gained some speed. I have no idea how that happened. Right now I am just focusing on tracking the ball and putting a good swing on the ball,” said Smith, who is second on the team in drawing walks and had an 18-game on-base streak.
Asked later about Smith’s “getting faster” comments, Anderson responded, “He didn’t play a lot [of baseball] in high school, and he’s still learning. Once he gets a little more experience, there’s no telling where that young man may end up one day,” said the longtime Gopher coach.
Read the “Only One” report and photo gallery from last weekend’s NCAA softball regionals in “Sports Odds and Ends Extra” on the MSR website.
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