Ryan Rowland-Smith: The Aussie Southpaw

Inland Empire LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith is a pitcher in the Mariners farm system who InsidethePark.com admittedly hasn't given enough ink to. The young Australian southpaw has been a key part to the 66ers success this season, and has appeared as both a starter and a reliever. Finally, we took notice, as InsidethePark's Jay Hobbs caught up with Rowland-Smith recently and has this exclusive feature.

If you had let Ryan Rowland-Smith's father know 10 years ago that in 2004, his son would be playing professional baseball in the United States, the rugby coach may have been caught totally off-guard.

In fact, he may have responded in the same way he did when his son told him at age 15 that he wanted to play baseball, not rugby – "Are you kidding me?"

While High-A Inland Empire's Australian-born left-hander gave up playing rugby competitively as a teenager, the lessons he learned from playing and growing up around the sport have stuck with him throughout his baseball career.

"Growing up, (rugby) is the top sport over there, especially when you're 14, 15 or even younger," Rowland-Smith said with a thick Australian accent. "All my friends back home played rugby, so I was kind of the outcast. It's a really physically demanding sport that's tough mentally too, so I guess that did help (for baseball)."

The first player ever to sign a professional baseball contract out of Newcastle, a university town in New South Wales, Rowland-Smith has had to use every bit of his strong work ethic to get to where he is today.

Not that anybody is in too big a hurry to leave the beach city, but the lefty had grander dreams, and his parents encouraged him to pursue them. Since high school baseball is rare in rural Australia especially, his parents would take him to lessons in Sidney, which is just south of Newcastle.

"There could be some good players coming out of Newcastle. I think I had more of an opportunity for better coaching," he said. "There's a lot of potential baseball talent there, but as far as getting any exposure of getting to play for good coaches, it's harder. I was fortunate enough to be able to train in the city. I think if a lot of the guys I'd played with had the same opportunities I'd had, they would've been good enough to sign too. It's just not a real big baseball area."

While the area may not be big for baseball, Rowland-Smith is one of four Australians in the Mariners organization, along with pitchers Craig Anderson, Travis Blackley and outfielder Chris Snelling. Anderson and Snelling were both on Australia's 2000 Olympic baseball team while they were playing for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A).

Rowland-Smith, who grew up playing first base and claims current Mariner John Olerud as his favorite player, said he wasn't too surprised with life in America when he first arrived in 2001. He did say, however, that there is a big difference when it comes to training. In his native Australia, players tend to work out on an individual level.

"I really didn't have a clue about what to expect," he said. "Craig (Anderson) doesn't talk much, so I wouldn't get much response from him, so I didn't know what to expect. One thing that did surprise me is how everybody trains as a group. There was culture shock, of course, but I expected that, and the talent (in the United States) is much better, which I expected."

The 6-foot-3 lefty has posted solid numbers throughout his four minor league seasons, and his time this year at Inland Empire has been no exception. In 40 innings, Rowland-Smith is 2-0 with a 3.82 ERA. He's struck out 45 while walking only 14 in 40 innings.

Rowland-Smith has been used primarily out of the bullpen this season after a rough 2002 stint at Wisconsin (A), where he allowed 31 earned runs in 41.1 innings as a starter. That year, the lefty was then sent down to Everett (SS-A), where he straightened up with the help of former Mariner Chris Bosio, who was coaching there at the time. He went on to sport an ERA of 2.77 in 61.2 innings for the Aquasox.

After an all-star first half with Wisconsin in 2003, Rowland-Smith was promoted to Inland Empire, where he posted a 3.20 ERA in 19.2 innings. He set a career high with 28 relief appearances last year.

It looked like he would be used in the late innings again this year, but after a few call-ups left the 66ers starting rotation with a hole, Rowland-Smith stepped back into a starting role to fill the gaps. In his first three starts, he has only let allowed five earned runs in 14.1 innings, good for a 3.08 ERA.

"He adds a lot anywhere we can use him," 66ers coach Daren Brown said. "(Starting him) probably hurts us a little bit in the bullpen, just because he's one of our guys that we could've gone to down there and he's done a good job.

"He's a very competative guy. When goes to the mound he wants to beat you and I think that rubs off on some of the other guys out there."

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