By Tom Albano
Senior pitcher Tyler Smith has done it all while with the Broncs. Named 2010 New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Smith has moved from the bullpen to the rotation, collecting 19 victories with an ERA under 3.00 for his career. In addition, he pitched the final out of the 2010 MAAC Championship win. Smith is a finance major from Westmont, N.J. and will be graduating this May and leaving Rider after being a key player on the baseball team for four years.
“[My playing days] have been great,” Smith said. “It’s gone by too fast, that’s for sure. But for four years I have contributed the best that I can for this team, two years as a closer and two years as a starter.”
Smith first got hooked on the sport at an early age.
“I started playing teeball and have been playing [baseball] my whole life,” Smith said. “I loved the game. My dad played baseball in college; I grew up around it. I’m a big baseball fan, and I’ve just been a fan of the game. I kind of picked up on it early, and I was decent so I just kept on playing.”
Smith continued with the game into high school before coming to Rider. Reflecting on his playing days before Rider, he remembered several sucessful seasons.
“When I was in Babe Ruth, which is the 12- to 15-year-old league, we won the championship a couple of times. And that was before high school ball, so my team was good. It was just such a great experience. Then we carried it over into high school, and when I was a senior we won South Jersey Group 2 and went to the state semi-finals.”
After being offered a baseball scholarship, Smith chose to become a Bronc.
“Rider just offered me the best all-around package,” he said. “It was close to home. I got a baseball scholarship to come here. I could have gone to some other places, but it wouldn’t have been on a scholarship. [Rider] is Division I baseball. It’s a very good program, Barry Davis is a great head coach, and it was just the perfect fit for me.”
Smith’s teammates also feel that he has been a good addition to the team, both as an athlete and as a person. Fellow senior pitcher Mike Murphy has roomed with Smith on various road trips.
“Everybody likes him,” Murphy said. “I actually don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him. He’s our captain. He’s our leader. We can always go to Smith when we need help.”
Murphy also appreciates Smith’s work as a pitcher.
“He’s a great guy to have on the mound,” Murphy said. “Every time he goes out there he’s worked hard all week and he’s ready to go. We want him on the mound in big situations.”
The hard work and determination eventually paid off for Smith.
“I was honored to be named captain of this team,” Smith said. “I was chosen by the team as a junior, and I continued my role as captain through this year as well.”
Smith said that the stressful side of being captain “is really nonexistent because we have a great group of guys.”
“We rarely have problems and when we do they are addressed,” he said. “There is really not much stress at all.”
One Rider moment that sticks out in Smith’s mind is his freshman season in 2010 — the year the Broncs won the MAAC Championship and earned a spot in the NCAA College World Series. During the championship game, Smith was brought in as the closer to win it for the Broncs. Smith vividly remembered the moment of the big win.
“It was a high chopper back to me that I fielded,” he said. “I knew I had time to collect myself, and I knew that all I had to do was run the ball back over to first, flip the ball and we’d win the game. So I took my time and flipped the ball to [the first baseman’s] chest.
Though it was a routine play, the pressure of winning the championship was weighing on his mind.
“He caught it,” Smith said. “Game over. And before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the dog pile.”
The championship win was only a small sample of what was to come for Smith.
Smith is looking for his 20th career victory as a Rider Bronc. He holds a 2.93 career ERA and has a career record of 19-15 over his 92 appearances during his four years as a Bronc.
His most recent performance came on April 20 during game one of a doubleheader against St. Peter’s. The Broncs went on to lose this first game 4-2. Smith, who received a no decision, gave a strong performance for the Broncs, striking out nine of the 30 batters he faced, while only giving up six hits, one walk and one run before being taken out.
Davis had praise for his team captain, even after the tough loss.
“He’s been very good, consistent and he keeps us in the game,” Davis said. “He gives us a chance to win if we can put some offense together — Tyler’s done a great job.”
Looking back at his time at Rider, Smith believes it’s been a great journey, whether as a starter or as a closer.
“As a closer you need to be pinpoint,” Smith said. “Each pitch you need to have 100% max effort and you need to be the best that you can be for those pitches. It’s a high-pressure situation. Starter is high pressure too, but you have a little more leeway, a little bit more freedom to maneuver. You can feel yourself out. If something’s not working for you, you can change it. You have the time to get into a groove, but ultimately you have to be 100% each pitch too.”
Smith wants to continue to play, but will be accepting if his playing days do end.
“After Rider I hope to keep playing if I can, but if not, I’ll hang them up and call it a career and get a job or possibly go to grad school,” Smith said. “I’m not sure yet.
Even if he does not continue his career, Smith is happy with how his pitching has progressed.
“I feel great,” he said. “My progression from when I was a freshman until now — I’m happy with it. I wouldn’t want to change anything about it. I don’t have any regrets and it’s been a blast for these four years.”