BY STEVE KRAH
Gage Smith grew up in the small town of Garrett, Ind.
The third baseman/right-handed pitcher is playing in another bantam burg this summer while playing for the Wellington Heat in Kansas Collegiate League Baseball.
“The community is close-knit and we have great group of guys here,” says Smith, a 2021 graduate of Garrett High School who has completed one season of college ball for the Connor Wilkins-coached Ivy Tech Northeast Titans in Fort Wayne.
Heat home games are played under the lights at Hibbs-Hooten Stadium in the seat of Summer County — Wellington. Road trips in the KCBL are as short as 30 minutes and as long as 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Wellington won the National Baseball Congress title in 2007 and were NBC World Series runners-up in 2013.
In his first eight games with the 2022 Heat, Smith is hitting .238 (5-of-21) with two home runs, four runs batted in and five runs scored. He has pitched in five games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with one save, a 2.70 earned run average, 11 strikeouts and two walks for 6 2/3 innings.
In 26 games at Ivy Tech in the spring, Smith hit .341 (29-of-85) with one homer, four triples, six doubles,15 RBIs and a .952 OPS (.411 on-base percentage plus .541 slugging average). The righty batter has also scored 16 runs and swiped 10 bases.
In four mound appearances (one start), Smith was 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks over 7 1/3 innings.
Smith does not wish to choose between infielder/hitter and pitcher as his favorite.
“I love both equally,” says Smith, 19. “I’d like to be a two-way for my whole career. I try to balance out the work with both positions.
“As a fielder my strength is putting it all on the line while backing my pitchers. At the plate, I try to spray it anywhere and be a tough out.”
While working with Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus, Smith took the velocity on the four-seam fastball from 83 mph to 88 mph from the fall to the spring.
But Smith does not focus on speed.
“I try to be dominant on the mound,” says Smith. “I’m pitching in the (strike) zone and attacking hitters with their weaknesses.
“Every hitter has a tell about what he’s going to chase. The catcher will also help you with that.”
Throwing over the top, Smith has a 12-to-6 curveball and “circle” change-up and he has been working on a two-seamer.
Smith calls DeJesus “a pitching genius.”
“He’s been moving the ball around in our hand to get the best break we can on (pitches),” says Smith.
Another Titans hurler that has benefitted from working with DeJesus is Matt Peters, who is moving on to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).
“It was awesome playing with him,” says Smith of Peters, who throws the ball in the high 90’s. “We got to face him in live (at-bats).
“He made an impact on all of us.”
Smith has three Ivy Tech teammates at Wellington — Joel Deakins, Coby Griffith and Noah Matheson. Deakins is an outfielder, Griffith a pitcher and Matheson an infielder.
Another — Zach Green — plays for KCBL’s Park City Rangers as a catcher. Smith and Matheson are roomies with host family parents James and Jodie McCarthy.
“They are some sweet people,” says Smith. “They are willing to have people live there and care for them.
“It’s definitely more comfortable having (Ivy Tech mates) around.”
At Ivy Tech — an National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II team — Smith has embraced the idea of a “JUCO Bandit.”
“I means you have some sort of grit to you. You’re dirtbags,” says Smith. “You train hard and play the game hard.
“That’s what a ‘JUCO Bandit’ means to me.”
Smith is in Kansas this summer and plans to return to Ivy Tech in the fall as a General Studies major with the idea of attracting a four-year school who will give him the opportunity to continue his baseball career.
Born in Fort Wayne, Smith grew up in Garrett and played about eight years at what is now Garrett Youth Baseball. The summers before and after his last high school season, he played for the Brett Ratcliffe-coached DeKalb County Thunder.
Ratcliffe was head coach at Garrett High in Smith’s freshman and sophomore years with Jason Richards leading the Railroaders in 2019-20 (the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and 2020-21.
“(Ratcliffe) was kind of an old school coach,” says Smith. “He taught me the basics of baseball and got me to where I wanted to play college baseball.
“(Richards) coached me in football in middle school. He was a guy I knew really well and could trust and depend on him.”
Gage’s parents are Pamela Smith and Chris Smith. He has a twin sister, Morgan Smith. Tori Smith is a few years older. Austin Carroll is second oldest sibling. Beau Carroll (who died in 2021 at 29) was the oldest.