PORT ST. LUCIE – Dominic Smith's worst day of this off-season happened on January 26 when he heard the news that his childhood hero was killed in a helicopter crash.
Smith grew up in Los Angeles and loved basketball almost as much as baseball. He couldn't help adoring Kobe Bryant, who was so much more to the city than just a talented athlete and Lakers icon.
"He did so much for the community, he founded an academy, that sucks," said Smith before training with the Mets in the spring.
Smith never had a chance to meet Bryant. Their closest encounter was in August 2017 when Smith was promoted to the Mets for the first time. Among the well-wishers was Bryant, who made a video that was sent to Smith. And after Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people were killed in the helicopter crash in Southern California last month, Smith posted the video on his Instagram page.
"Kobe said" Congratulations "and it was kind of epic stuff," said Smith. "That meant a lot and it's a shame I couldn't sit down and talk to him. It sucks how everything happened because he was such a great person.
"I know a lot of people who knew him. He was the best, a great guy. He was a father, that's the greatest, he looked after children. He just wanted to help people and be the best. Be the best athlete, be the best person, be the best person you could be. "
When Smith arrived in Florida at the start of the camp, he was still dealing with the aftershock of Bryant's death.
"I was sick in the stomach, I was very sad," said Smith. "I'm still sad. It took me about a week to numb the pain because you couldn't get away from it. It was everywhere on social media, it was everywhere on TV, so to be constantly reminded of who Death of one person or all of the people who were great people on this flight was just a sad day. Anyone who dies, it will be a sad day, but the way he died it is just so sad. "
Smith is now turning to his job as he tries to return to the level he had reached in the first half of last season before a left foot stress break caused him to ride a scooter through the Mets clubhouse and to serve as a team cheerleader.
In a breakout half, Smith had a .282 / .355 / .525 slash line with 11 homers in just 177 bats. The 24-year-old Smith is now a left field player (in a crowded mix) after Pete Alonso appeared on the first base. He is not quite sure how it fits, but he says he is ready for any opportunity he has.
"We know that we have so much talent that we all feel confident that one of us will do the job no matter who connects where," said Smith, who wants to share the time with JD Davis and possibly left Yoenis Cespedes , “We push each other because we all know we have enough time to show what we can do, and with our success, that will determine what the team does. That is why we want us to do each other well because if we all do well, we will achieve our goal, the playoffs and the World Series. "
Smith's off-season focus was on improving his outfield work. To get faster, he hired a trainer who specializes in running technique and speed. Smith discovered that he had to extend his steps.
"Even around the bases, my steps were just too short," said Smith. “I wanted to work on extending my crotch, and by extending my crotch, I can cover more ground, more efficiently, more evenly, and thus get more balls. I really wanted to work on my crotch and look up while running like a broad receiver. I have achieved these things and I am excited to see what I can do in the spring and carry it into the season. "