Q+A: Catcher Eric Smith

Stanford baseball has returned eight of its starting nine hitters from last year. The new member of the regular batting order is catcher Eric Smith, who is replacing graduated defensive stalwart Zach Jones. Smith has masterfully executed the transition from his former backup infield spot to be the second-leading RBI producer (17) in a powerhouse of a lineup that leads the Pac-12 in production.

David Lombardi, The Bootleg: Eric, you're off to a very hot start this season. Quite frankly, your 17 RBI have been a bit of a surprise since it's your first year starting. What's been the key for you at the plate?

Eric Smith: A lot of the credit I have to give for being productive at the plate is because of the guys getting on in front of me. You have guys like Lonnie Kauppila, Christian Griffiths, Brian Ragira, and all of those guys, and they really set the table for me.

Stanford returned eight players from last year's squad. You're the ninth guy getting starting action this year. How has being a regular in the starting lineup contributed to your approach?

It plays to your advantage when you get four or five at bats a game. You can get in more of a rhythm at the plate. You can adjust at bat to at bat instead of weekend to weekend. Your timing isn't always there as a pinch hitter. It might be cold, it might be rainy, and you're not really mentally in it sometimes. It's a lot easier to get into the swing of things when you're a regular in the starting lineup.

You were converted from the middle infield to the catching position this season. What's been the hardest part of moving behind the dish?

The physical toll that catching takes on your legs day in and day out is the toughest part for me. Playing infield a lot isn't easy, but it's much different when you're in the squat nine innings a game, three games a weekend. Just getting my legs in shape to handle that has been a big challenge.

It obviously hasn't been a problem for you when it comes to offensive performance. You hadn't hit a home run yet in your career up until this year. Now you have two, including what I thought was Stanford's most impressive home run of the season in Fresno. You really yanked that one out of the ballpark. [It landed on the roof of the athletic offices behind the right-field wall at Beiden Field.] Then, in your next at bat, you doubled in a pair by going the other way. Is hitting to all directions a new emphasis in your hitting approach that has garnered this success at the plate?

Well, my approach my entire life has been to work up the middle, left-center and then adjust from there. The home run you mentioned at Fresno State, that ball was on the inner half of the plate, so I just turned on it. The next at bat, it was a fastball away, so I went to left field. That's always what I've tried to do. I've always just tried to go with the pitch, and hit it where it's pitched. So far this season, I've had more opportunities to show my approach. It's working out for me pretty well.

No errors so far this year. Teams haven't run with a lot of success against you this year. But there are teams in the Pac-12 that like to steal a lot, particularly Arizona. What are the minute details defensively that you think you still need to improve to become a very good catcher in this conference?

I've just got to remember to stay with the fundamentals. I have to learn from each game. I have to learn from Coach [Rusty] Filter and Coach Brock [Ungricht], discuss it over with pitchers and see what they like. My goal is to help the pitchers, and that's what my job is. Every inning, every at bat, every game is a new learning experience for me. I have to keep concentrating, keep mentally focused. If I can continue learning from my mistakes, I'll keep contributing to this team.

Brett Mooneyham told me that Stanford closer David Schmidt throws with a foot of sink on the ball. What is it like catching someone who throws 90-plus with a foot of sink on the ball?

I remember the first time I caught him, he blew out my thumb pretty good. But you get comfortable catching these guys, and you get comfortable seeing what their ball does. If they're missing some area, you get comfortable learning how to help them adjust. Some guys like Mark [Appel] or Brett [Mooneyham], they like to bury sliders, you just get used to seeing that over and over again. You just become fine-tuned with a pitcher, and it helps you with pitching every day.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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