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The Right Pitch

By John Manuel

It just didn’t seem right at the time.

Why would Chris Smith, a second-team All-America outfielder for Florida State last season, leave the only college he ever wanted to attend?

It turns out he had a good reason, and his move looks like it was the right one.

Smith transferred from Florida State to Cumberland (Tenn.), an NAIA school, after Seminoles coach Mike Martin did not release him from his scholarship to transfer. In his first full season as a pitcher, Smith showcased a mid-90s fastball and enough potential in his cut fastball, curveball and changeup to pitch his way into the first round of the draft.

"The draft isn’t in my hands, but I knew I had to prove myself," Smith said. "I showed velocity when I pitched for Florida State, and I just knew I needed to be a pitcher. I came here for one reason and one reason only, and that was to pitch."

He pitched plenty for Cumberland, which finished its season at 50-19. Smith went 9-2, 2.13 with seven complete games, striking out 115 and walking just 34 in 84 innings while giving up 54 hits. He also dominated offensively, hitting .414-17-67.

"The thing I’m really pleased with is his command," Cumberland coach Woody Hunt said. "His curve has improved a great deal. His changeup and cutter are developing, and his velocity has been there all year. He’s pitching at 90-93 and touching higher than that.

"It was a big adjustment for him. Florida State is one of the top programs in the country, so I’m sure for him, even though we have a good program, this was like coming from the penthouse to the outhouse."

In his two seasons in Tallahassee, Smith shone in the outfield and at the plate while pitching just 16 innings. He hit .375-14-66 in 2000 despite battling a knee injury that required offseason arthroscopic surgery. He made up his mind he needed to pitch more, especially after an early-season outing at Arizona State where he touched 93 mph.

While Smith says he fought tears at the time of his transfer, he wouldn’t change a thing now.

"I’ve turned into a pitcher now," he said. "I can feel when I’m doing something wrong. I can pitch at 90 and get 95 when I need it. I’m not just going out there and trying to blow it by people.

"It was a hard decision; Florida State was my dream school. But I proved I could be an outfielder at the Division I level. I wanted to showcase my pitching talent, because I thought that was the better way for me to get far in professional baseball."

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