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Grant Smith proves the value of servant leadership on and off the diamond

Travis Fannon
Kentucky Wildcats infielder Grant Smith (12) rounds second base after hitting a homerun during the No. 18 Kentucky vs. No. 25 Missouri baseball game on Saturday, April 1, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 10-0. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

After a promising season on the diamond, a different kind of offseason showed another side of Kentucky baseball shortstop Grant Smith’s game.

Smith arrived in Lexington from the University of the Incarnate Word, where he spent three seasons and played 116 games and, in his first season in blue and white, he played a very complete game. 

At the plate, he filled up the stat sheet. Smith posted an .281 batting average, had 52 hits, clubbed eight home runs, eight doubles, was hit by 14 pitches and led the SEC with 11 sacrifice bunts.

While this complete offensive stat line may be hard to come by, his defensive output may be even harder to compete with.

Smith finished as a gold glove finalist at shortstop as he only posted three errors in 244 chances and also was a part of 34 double plays turned.

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Grant Smith (12) throws the ball during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-2. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

“If you have guys out there like Grant Smith, it is kind of hard not to go out there and have all the confidence in the world,” pitcher Mason Moore said about having Smith’s glove behind him on the mound.

Even though all of these are impressive numbers, perhaps the most impressive part of them is that Smith was not 100% healthy during the majority of the season.

“Last year I played the whole season with the injury,” Smith said.

The aforementioned injury was a hip injury that resulted in surgery, which kept him sidelined for the majority of the offseason.

“Mentally, it was probably just as hard as it was physically,” he said. “Just not being able to contribute to the team.”

Despite going through some of these challenges, Smith was able to bring out another side of his game that has nothing to do with hitting or defense.

“Truth be told, I really believe you learn a lot about somebody about the way they act when things do not go their way,” head coach Nick Mingione said when speaking about Smith.

Smith spent his offseason summer rehabbing and returned to the team this fall. Even though he was not quite ready to take the diamond again, he was able to contribute in another way.

“He served our team,” Mingione said. “He kept charts, he kept quality at bats, he did every pitch. You name this, dude served our team every single day.”

The hard work did not go unnoticed amongst his teammates either.

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Grant Smith (12) plays shortstop during the Kentucky vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff (Isaiah Pinto)

“We do peer reviews and come time to vote,(the question was), ‘Who makes you proud to be a Wildcat?’ Mingione said. “‘Who is the hardest worker on the team?’ This guy starts showing up in every single one of these categories, including first year players voting for him.”

After being a great teammate while out of commission, Smith is now healthy and ready to go for his final season of eligibility in 2024 and might even be seeing some positive effects of the surgery.

“I have noticed a lot better mechanics in my swing and power output, so I am happy I had the surgery done,” Smith said.

The abnormal off season also had some effects on the mindset of Smith going into the 2024 season.

“I have a little different perspective to share,” he said. “I am very grateful to be out there again and just having the time off gave me a new outlook on the season.”

Smith is sure to be a prominent player for the Wildcats in 2024, but his unique offseason proved that contributions to winning go far beyond play on the field.

Kentucky baseball will begin its 2024 campaign on Friday, Feb. 16, on the road against South Carolina Upstate. Game one of the three-game series will begin at 3 p.m. ET and will air live on ESPN+.

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