June 20, 2011
Slade Smith had a long time to think about what he wanted to accomplish this summer. 18 hours straight, to be exact. Auburn's 2011 Opening Day starting pitcher and teammate Zach Alvord hit the road around midnight and drove straight through the night and day, stopping at three gas stations and a T.G.I. Friday's, as they made their way up to Bourne, Mass., to join the Bourne Braves for the 2011 season in the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL).
"It was crazy," Smith said. "I had to take two of those 5-hour ENERGY drinks. We drove through 12 states. It was definitely the longest road trip I've driven."
After arriving in Bourne, the junior from Ft. Payne, Ala., was ready to take in the whole experience of playing in a summer collegiate league. Smith says he hopes to build up his confidence over the summer, but wants to focus on certain aspects of his game, as well.
"I'm really looking to just command all of my pitches better and really to build, not just as a thrower, but as a pitcher," Smith said. "It's knowing how to face different batters and pitch the game and everything. That's exactly what I'm looking for up here."
Smith has the opportunity to throw a little differently over the summer than during the regular season at Auburn. The CCBL is widely known for its use of wooden bats, offering players the chance to experience a style of play more similar to that of professional baseball.
"It's the best thing ever," Smith said. "As a pitcher, I love throwing against wood. It gives you a whole lot more confidence, and it really just changes your mentality to a more aggressive standpoint. I can go out there and impact the hitters and really sort of go at them and throw strikes instead of trying to pitch around them and stuff like that."
Another advantage to the summer season is the opportunity to learn from players and coaches that the athletes might not encounter otherwise. Smith says he is taking advantage of that opportunity and is looking forward to evaluating everything he's learned.
"It's been great getting different opinions and insight from different pitchers on how they look at the pitching standpoint in a game and being able to balance that with the things I already know and the things I've been taught by Coach (Scott) Foxhall down at Auburn. Being able to put them all on a scale and then balance them all out and learning things from each other, it really helps as a pitcher learning from different guys, instead of just one particular person or just myself."
Smith and Alvord are two of four Auburn teammates who are getting to continue to play together over the summer. Blake Austin and Jay Gonzalez are both members of the Harrisonburg Turks in the Valley League. Smith recognizes the value of having a teammate on the same summer league team, both as a friend to share the experience with and what it will offer them when they get back on the field at Plainsman Park.
"We got some quality bonding time on our 18-hour road trip," Smith laughed. "When we got up here, it was nice to have a guy that you know you're comfortable with already. We meet so many different guys, but it's somebody that we can fall back to and relate to and kind of meet everybody together. At the same time, having him play behind me makes me more comfortable on the mound, and having that chemistry on the field with Zach over the summer will also carry over to next year when we're playing back down in Auburn."
Overall, Smith is enjoying the experience of living and playing in a place much different than what he has grown accustomed to on the Plains.
"By far, this has been the most fun I've had playing baseball in a long time," Smith said. "Just being able to meet different guys from across the nation and really bonding with them and having a lot of the stress taken off of you away from the school season. I'm just having a fun time and focusing on getting better.
"We're all really looking forward to a day off when we can go to Boston and go to a Red Sox game, but at the same time, I'm just enjoying the beauty of the Cape Cod and the beaches and the different atmosphere and just soaking in all of that, because it's definitely something you don't get down in Auburn."
by Mae Margaret Davis, Auburn Media Relations
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