MARION — Miners fans may not realize it, but there’s an aspiring entrepreneur manning first base for them.
So what’s Jamey Smart doing riding buses in the Frontier League instead of putting his Loyola Marymount degree to use?
Yep, you’re not seeing things. Smart majored in entrepreneurship at the Los Angeles university while mixing in some quality baseball that was enough for him to postpone his eventual life’s work in favor of banking some ball-and-bat cash.
“I was pretty sure that I wanted to get a business degree, because it was a safe way to go,” Smart said in the dugout before Tuesday night’s game with Joliet. “I didn’t want to be a finance guy or an accountant, so that left three options: Marketing, business management and entrepreneurship.
“LMU had a really good entrepreneurship school that was ranked 11th in the country, so I looked at that and thought it might be a really good opportunity. It was a little different, a little outside-the-box thinking. It didn’t seem like there were set parameters on doing things like there are with accounting or finance.”
Smart went on assignments at his professors’ behest, pitching products and interviewing people as though the product actually existed. Think of it like the scene from Professor Barbay’s class in Back to School, only without Thornton Melon’s comic interjections.
The major difference: Smart swings a meaner bat than Melon or Derek Lutz. Entering Friday night’s game at Evansville, the mid-season acquisition checked in with a .319 average, two homers and 17 RBI over 28 games and 113 at-bats.
A few hours after musing about entrepreneurship, playing for pay two time zones away from his native northern California and a mid-season trade that moved him up the standings, Smart delivered one of his best games with Southern Illinois.
In an 8-4 win over Joliet, the lefty swinger went 3 for 5 with two doubles, including a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth that snapped a 4-4 tie. That hit was pulled off the right field wall, a new addition to Smart’s arsenal.
“My whole career, I’ve been good at going the other way and teams are starting to pick up on that,” he said. “My timing’s a little better and I’m ready for those (inside) pitches. I’m thinking that I can make more progress in catching the ball out front a little more.”
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Smart has never bashed down fences, but has always been able to hit for average at every level. After batting an absurd .598 during four years at Atherton High School in Danville, Calif., Smart hit .298 in 200 career games at LMU, cracking 13 homers and knocking in 123 runs.
He started his pro career in the Pecos League last year, driving in 23 runs in just 47 at-bats for the Santa Fe Fuego before hooking on with Lincoln and Winnipeg for short stints in the American Association. Smart signed with Gateway before this season and was batting .276 with a homer and 25 RBI in 116 at-bats.
But his stint with the Grizzlies ended hours before the Miners opened a series there at the end of June. Needing more hitters who made contact, manager Mike Pinto acquired him from Gateway for a player to be named later.
Instead of suiting up with his Grizzlies’ teammates, Smart moved his belongings to the visitors’ clubhouse at GCS Credit Union Ballpark in Sauget. Gateway became a them, just like that.
“It was funny playing against my friends because I was close to a lot of the guys there,” he said. “It was weird, but a lot of fun.”
Smart’s addition has helped an inconsistent offense that, in May, was supposed to be built around sluggers Brett Siddall and Chris Iriart. But they each hit .101 and combined for 92 strikeouts in nearly 200 at-bats between them before drawing their release.
While Smart may not have light-tower power, he can hit gaps with the best of them. And he’s not a candidate to bog down an offense by swinging and missing strike three.
“Power really isn’t his game,” Pinto said last month of Smart, “but he puts the ball in play and he plays very good defense. He fills a real good spot for us.”