By Jennifer Redenbach
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla.—Toronto Blue Jays catching prospect Ridge Smith needed some extra time to feel comfortable on and off the field before turning pro.
He had a very successful high school career, hitting .473 as a third baseman and pitched regularly. It wasn’t until later, however, that he found his full-time home behind the plate.
Smith was first drafted in the 29th round in 2013 by the Cleveland Indians, when Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro were still a part of the front office, but he did not feel he was ready to play third base at the next level.
Smith feared that he was too small at 5-foot-9 to stay at the position long term. He saw he was surrounded by larger athletes, and was intimidated by the thought of leaving home so young.
“I was 18 years old. I was a little scared,” Smith said Thursday at the Blue Jays’ Bobby Mattick Training Center, “and I wasn’t ready for this, to go away from home for the first time in my life for an extended period of time.”
Smith’s passing on the Indians’ offer was not easily come by.
“It was a tough decision... financially it would have helped me out a lot, me and my family,” Smith said.
His family, especially his father Jeff, has helped propel him into the player he is today. His father’s work ethic gave Smith limitless motivation to further pursue a career in baseball.
“He worked two jobs his whole life and he’s a retired Memphis fireman now and he’s a done irrigation work since he was probably 25, so going out with him and literally digging ditches you know that kind of instills a certain work ethic in you that other stuff can’t do,” Smith said.
Despite rejecting the Indians, the hard work instilled in Smith by his father proved that he was destined to play on a baseball field. In 2016, Smith was drafted again by Shapiro and Atkins, who had moved to the Blue Jays. This time they picked him in the 12th round.
By then, Ridge knew he was ready to pursue a baseball career at the next level.
“Being more physically mature, more emotionally mature, just having a better understanding of life,” Smith said.
Smith has modelled his body language and general demeanour on the field after his favourite players— Russell Martin, Iván Rodríguez and Derek Jeter.
“They make mistakes, and they’re not hanging their head, and down and out about stuff. They are always up,” Smith said. “They can go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 and it doesn’t matter. … They are going to give it 100 percent no matter what kind of day they’re having.”