After redshirting his first year, Smith was set for his second year with the program and first to play. It was opening day 2008 against Minnesota, and he was at first base. The Rebels had a comfortable lead. Smith was called over to the mound in the top of the ninth inning to finish things up.
Facing his second batter, Smith made a pitch and hit the ground hard in obvious pain. He hasn't pitched since.
What looked like a potential season-ending injury initially turned out to be just a week's recovery from a torn UCL in his throwing arm. The very next Friday night he helped Ole Miss beat Indiana State, starting at first base and going 2-for-5 at the plate.
Smith played first the rest of that season and this past spring. Now the fourth-year junior from Milan, Ga., is in right field. And he feels right at home.
"It's going pretty good," said the 6-foot-2, 226-pounder. "When I got here, I was an outfielder and pitcher. They asked me if I wanted to move. It was fine with me. This year, they need me back in the outfield and feel like it will help the team."
Smith said he believes he's got the tools to take care of business in right.
"I'm athletic enough to move to the outfield," he said. "I can tell a difference from my freshman year, and I feel pretty comfortable. I haven't really had too learn much. All throughout high school I played outfield as well."
But there are differences, obviously. Smith is adjusting as fall ball continues.
"The biggest difference for me is my angles to the ball and learning the trajectory of the baseball off the bat and finding my path to it," he said. "Other than that, it's pretty straight-forward. My arm is definitely not as strong as it used to be since I tore my UCL, but it's still pretty strong and I'm confident."
His UCL is still torn, and pitching is mostly out of the question. But he feels his arm is capable of handling long throws from the outfield.
"It's still like it was (torn). What's weird is a few weeks after I tore it, there was still pain," Smith said. "But after that, it went away. My arm was still pretty strong. Maybe my pain tolerance is a little better than most people. The doctor said there are pitchers in the big leagues pitching with partially torn UCLs."
So there was no surgery, and Smith said there won't be – unless a professional team steps forward and wants him to have it.
"The only way I think I'll get surgery is if the team that drafts me wants me to," he said. "Because as long as I'm not pitching and I'm going to play first base or a corner outfield spot, I think my arm's good enough to play."
The Ole Miss coaches are certainly banking on that being the case.
"Matt came here as an outfielder, and it's really more of a natural position for him in the outfield," head coach Mike Bianco said, also mentioning sophomore Matt Snyder is the likely candidate at first base.
"He's big and physical, he can run and is athletic," Bianco said of Smith. "We feel like he's where he needs to be and where we need him to be."
At Home In Right
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