By John Bassetti
Sometimes, fathers put a little too much emphasis on sports when guiding their sons.
Kenny Smith’s father didn’t and the former major leaguer is grateful for it.
“I felt bad [that I didn’t learn baseball from him], but I love him dearly because he taught me all the other stuff outside of sports to be a man and to be respectful,” said Smith, who is scheduled for induction into the Ebony Lifeline All-Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 19.
“He loved baseball and sports, but he said that most of your life is going to be something other than playing baseball.”
Considering that Smith, 54, is doing well in Memphis, Tenn. following a satisfying pro baseball career that ended in 1988, the advice was sound.
Following graduation from East High School in 1976, Smith was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
He first played for manager Bobby Cox in parts of the 1981 season, then under Joe Torre during parts of the 1982 and ‘83 seasons.
A career highlight was winning the Western Division title in 1982, before the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series that year.
A most memorable moment for the first baseman/outfielder was his first major league game.
“I’ll never forget it, in Cincinnati,” Smith said.
He was also thrilled being able to play in Pittsburgh.
Although he never played a full season in the majors, he came close in Atlanta in 1982 when he spent just a month at Class-AAA Richmond before returning.
That was also the year Smith hit .293.
He left the Braves organization in 1986, then signed a one-year free agent contract with the Orioles’ AAA team in Rochester, N.Y. of the International League. He was overseas in Italy for a year as player-coach in Natuno-Anzio, where he worked with young players.
When Smith retired, he moved to Memphis in 1988.
“I may have never left Youngstown if not for baseball,” Smith said. “It opened doors and gave me life experience. It’s something I never imagined happening. I’m very blessed.”
Kenneth Earl Smith can thank Edward and Betty Smith, who still live in town.
When he first got out of baseball, Kenny Smith worked for the Honda Motor Corp. in Memphis as finance/sales manager for 10 years. Since, he’s with Jaguar-Landrover Bluff City Memphis in a similar capacity.
In an effort to allow inner-city youth exposure to baseball, Smith started Tri-State Youth Baseball, a non-profit group.
“I had an opportunity growing up to play, but I was one of few guys involved in organized ball,” he said of his Little League days with Rondinelli Cleaners, followed by Babe Ruth, high school and Class B.
“I always had an opportunity to play baseball in Youngstown, because someone took the time to teach us,” Smith said, singling out LL manager Larry Burton.
“One of my goals now is to give back and give kids an opportunity to learn to play and to learn what baseball has taught me.”
Smith’s world started at the corner of Garland Avenue and Rigby Street, but that environment was a microcosm of what he would encounter later overseas and during winter ball in Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“Language was always a barrier, but when growing up, we got to know people of different cultures and ethnicity, like Italians and Puerto Ricans, so it was really no different than home,” he said.
Smith gets back to Youngstown several times a year, visiting his parents, sister Florene Smith of Campbell and brother Jeffery of Akron.
His youngest sister, Dora, lives in Richmond, Va.
Smith and his wife, Renee Poe-Smith. have two sons: Kenny (29) and Armando (25).