You know how some folks throw a U.S. map on their wall and, using push pins, note all the places they've been?
If Curt Smith had one for all of his journeys through the minor leagues, his might resemble some last-minute, summer trip thrown together by college buddies:
From the Caribbean island of his native Curacao, then to the University of Maine — where he arrived without a coat and only shorts — and eventually playing in almost 100 towns home to the minor leagues. Name the town, and he's probably played a game there, in places such as Johnson City, Tenn., and Davenport, Iowa; and leagues such as the Midwest, Florida State, Texas, Southern, Eastern and even the American Association, an independent circuit.
Along the way, teammates came to know him as a cool guy who could speak four languages — English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento — and who always smiled.
Talk about coming full circle. This spring, he returned to the Springfield Cardinals, two years after the News-Leader last spotted Smith in spring training sporting a Marlins jersey. In between, he also played in the Twins system and twice in the American Association, up in Lincoln, Neb.
And tonight, when the Springfield club returns home to open a four-game weekend series against the Arkansas Travelers, you can bet Smith will still be smiling. Which is notable. Some might have been jaded by all the starts and stops.
"I just love playing baseball. I was going to do anything in my power to keep playing. Not give up. Keep fighting," Smith said. "I'm just glad I got another opportunity."
You won't find Smith's name on any prospect lists. But at 27, he's here to help the cause, here to guide the prospects along.
In fact, Smith is the kind of veteran presence who organizations cherish — a seasoned minor leaguer who's always got a bounce in his step and on the ready.
His value hasn't gone unnoticed lately. Two weeks ago, the club's first baseman, Jonathan Rodriguez, suffered a hamstring injury and in stepped Smith. He's hit a respectable .265 (31-for-117) with nine extra-base hits and 17 RBIs. When Rodriguez returns, Smith again could be valuable as a veteran bat behind Rodriguez in the lineup.
Said manager Mike Shildt, "It helps when a guy hitting behind you can do damage as well."
And to think how this journey started, from Curacao to Maine. Smith still laughs.
The language barrier was one thing. The weather another.
"I got there and I didn't have anything. I pretty much had shorts, sandals and T-shirts. I was definitely not prepared for that weather," Smith said. "Luckily, I had a good roommate and he helped me out those first couple of months."
A right-handed batter, Smith also plays both first and third base and could play the outfield in a pinch. When he played here in Springfield in 2009 and 2010, he was part of the wave of draft picks of then-scouting director Jeff Luhnow trying to push on.
Smith wasn't a big-time name then, either, since he was a 38th-round draft pick in 2008.
But he put up nice numbers in 2010 — nine home runs, 19 doubles and a .279 average — for a team that reached the Texas League playoffs. Unfortunately for him, he missed the final six weeks of the season after a left hand injury which required surgery.
The next spring training, he was released, and his journey took him elsewhere.
"You definitely have to adjust, playing in different leagues. But that's part of baseball. That's a part of being mentally strong," Smith said. "That's a good thing to (experience) in this game. You have to be mentally strong after awhile."
So, no awkwardness in being back here?
"It's not awkward at all. To be back with the organization that drafted you, it's always a good feeling. It's comfortable," Smith said. "And it's good just to be playing baseball."