The Notebook: Mallex Smith’s Pen Keeps Him Ahead of the Game
Saturday’s game followed the same script as the two games before it for Fort Wayne–acquire lead, lose lead, lose game. Dayton opened the three-game series at Parkview Field Saturday with a 7-6 win over Fort Wayne, extending the Fort Wayne losing streak to four games both overall, and in their season series with the Cincinnati Reds affiliate. Here’s how things have played out the last few days for the TinCaps:
Thursday: Take 1-0 lead on Diego Goris’ inside-the-park home run, lose, 4-1.
Friday: Take 1-0 lead in the second inning, go down, 5-1, after two innings, lose, 7-6.
Saturday: Take 4-2 lead after two innings, lose, 7-6.
Will today be different? That’s the hope for the TinCaps with Zach Eflin on the mound. He has far and away been the team’s best pitcher in the second half, and ERA-wise has been the best in the Midwest League since May. Despite a 6.06 ERA in April, Eflin has the lowest ERA (2.20) among active starting pitchers in the Midwest league since May. Only Dylan Floro of Bowling Green, who was promoted to Advanced-A yesterday, had a better mark at 1.91. In Eflin’s last start, facing Lansing, he gave up just one hit and allowed only two baserunners over seven innings.
First pitch today is at 3:05 at Parkview Field, and it’s guaranteed to be another beautiful day for baseball. I’ve been sitting in the press box this morning with my window wide open, and it feels fabulous. Radio coverage begins today at 2:45 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. You can hear Manager Jose Valentin on our pre-game show around 2:50. Kent Hormann and I will have the TV broadcast on XFINITY 81, getting underway at 3:00. We hope you’ll join us.
FROM WINN-DIXIE TO WINNING BASEBALL
It has long been said, or perhaps better, written, that the pen is mightier than the sword.
In the case of TinCaps outfielder Mallex Smith, the pen may just be mightier than the bat. At worst, it is a complementary device that is crucial to his success both at the plate and on the basepaths. At best, it is a tool that separates him from the majority of his contemporaries.
Heading into play today, Smith is tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 51, and for the second half he has raised his average 13 points, from .255 to .268. The 20-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida, has learned a lot this year from the three former Major League Baseball players on Fort Wayne’s coaching staff, but he’s also taken to teaching himself a thing or two about the game.
No matter which of the 12 Midwest League dugouts Smith has visited this season, he’s kept with him a marble notebook, an information repository most popular in elementary school classrooms across the country. But for Smith, it’s not the look of the notebook that matters or the connotation that comes along with it, it’s the information inside that fuels his thought process while he’s on the field.
“(Keeping the notebook) started when I was in Arizona for the Arizona League when I first got drafted (in 2012). I got hurt, and I was recommended to do it. When I got hurt, I was bored. I was sitting there watching the game and I wanted to keep myself all the way focused in on the game while I was hurt. I tried to keep notes on everything that everybody did, from position players to pitchers and catchers to relief pitchers, but that got to be a little too much because it’s hard to keep up with everything,” Smith said, sitting on a worn wooden bench in the visitor’s dugout at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium.
Smith was out with a twisted right ankle, suffered on an over-slide into third base. It was his father, Michael, a former wide receiver at Florida A&M University, who told him keeping a notebook might be a good idea to keep his head in the game.
“From then,” Mallex said, “I noticed when I tried to keep up with the game and keep notes, I made the game slow down for the next time I faced that team.”
The elder Smith kept notes when he was younger, too, but not for his football-playing days. Michael Smith once worked at a grocery store, and it was there that he was trying to get a leg up on his competition. Instead of the gridiron, it might have been the gardening aisle.
“He worked at Winn Dixie,” Mallex said. “When he got a job there, he was one of the last people to get hired, so he had to get taught where everything was, so he was pretty much playing catch-up with everybody. He ended up getting transferred to a new Winn Dixie that was just opening, so nobody knew where anything was. So he said on his first day, he showed up extra early to go down each aisle and note where everything was and to know where things were in the stock room so that when people needed things, he was able to help them out.
“My dad always told me you want to keep notes on everything you do, especially when it’s your job. Partly because it keeps you one step ahead. You start seeing the same guys over and over again, so it’s a smart thing to remember what they tried to do to you last time. Now, instead of you trying to adjust to them, they’re trying to adjust to you.”
Mallex will go to his notebook both before and after at-bats, using a blue pen to note things like “Best to just play with his head and make him keep his attention on you,” about Lake County lefthander Ryan Merritt.
Hear Smith describe what he writes about in his notebook:
Of Lansing’s Roberto Osuna, he wrote:
“FB (fastball) 1st pitch
CH (changeup) 2nd pitch both times
great guy to steal on
CH is a floating pitch not much movement”
Although TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin has been critical of his team at times this year for failing to make adjustments, Smith has defied that trend with his approach: study before the at-bat, making the physical actions habit.
“I think, just from watching him, he’ll ask me a lot of questions,” said TinCaps hitting coach Morgan Burkhart. More than anyone else. He’s keeping notes, so he’s definitely doing what he can to put himself in the best situation…. He’s putting every effort in that he can to go out and be successful.”
Burkhart also keeps scouting reports on opposing pitchers, which he shares with Smith and any other player that wants to try and gain an edge.
“I feel like every time I go up to bat and I have something down on the pitcher, I’m ahead of him. Especially if I’ve seen him multiple times, I’ve got a jump on him. I already know what he’s about to do to me before he knows what he’s about to do to me,” Smith said.
TIRED, BUT NOT WORN DOWN
Saturday was a long day for Hunter Renfroe, the newest member of the Fort Wayne contingent. The 13th overall pick in this year’s draft was added to Fort Wayne’s roster yesterday afternoon, and made his TinCaps debut going 2-for-4 in front of a crowd of 8,009 at Parkview Field.
His day started at 3:40 a.m., where he woke up in Eugene, Oregon, flew to Portland, Oregon, then to Indianapolis, and finally to Fort Wayne. Here’s approximately how much time he spent in the air yesterday:
Eugene to Portland: 40 minutes
Portland to Indianapolis: 6 hours (no, thank you)
Indianapolis to Fort Wayne: 40 minutes
So, that’s almost 7.5 hours spent on airplanes yesterday, not to mention the amount of time spent lugging through airports and traveling to and fro.
“It’s the same mental approach at the plate and know that even though I did wake up at 3:40 in the morning, just go up there and have energy and compete my heart out,” Renfroe told Greg Jones of The Journal Gazette. “I am trying to meet everybody and fit in and get to know them.”
Renfroe went 2-for-4 with an RBI and also made a couple nice grabs in right field, getting used to his new terrain. He didn’t arrive in time for batting practice, which runs between 4:00-5:00 for the TinCaps, so he really had no practice before the game got started.
Once again today, Renfroe is in the lineup hitting third, and is scheduled to play right field.
SEE WHAT HAPPENS
In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, Manager Jose Valentin says, “Overall, it was a well played game. Overall, I don’t think our approach at home plate was good enough. (We) swing at too many first pitches, bad pitches, chasing a lot of bad pitches. I don’t think (our plan was good). No focus, no concentration at home plate. We scored four runs in the second inning and then we got shut out until the ninth and then we scored two…We’ve just got to keep playing hard, keep playing hard and we’ll see what happens.”
HAPPENS TO THE BEST OF THEM
In case you thought baseball’s hidden ball trick was only attempted in little league, think again. It happened to Juan Uribe of the Dodgers last night:
Nice work by both the Rays and umpire Angel Hernandez being on top of the play.
The Hidden Ball Trick–perhaps coming to a Midwest League stadium near you. Hey, if MLB players fall for it, who’s to say a minor league player wouldn’t?
I’ve never not been happy to say this…Katy Perry, take it away!
(You’re definitely going to be hearing this song on the radio soon…and a lot of it)