Aussie in the outfield

By Tom Williams

Crikey! Baseball is an international game.

NILES — One of the outfielders looking for playing time with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers is 19-year-old Jason Smit, whose hometown is Hillarys, Australia.

“For the past three years, I’ve played in the Cleveland Indians’ [system],” said Smith who was on the Indians’ Gulf Coast League team in 2007 and 2008.

This summer, the Australian whose hometown is near Perth is competing for playing time with the Scrappers, the Indians’ short-season club in the New York-Penn League.

Asked if baseball is popular Down Under, Smith admitted, “No ... but we’ve got quite a few pro guys in the minor leagues, about 60 from Lower A all the way to Triple A.

“We’ve got some in the big leagues,” Smit said. “When we do go home to play, we do get some pretty competition.

“But the fanbase isn’t big at all [compared with] all the other sports. Basketball is a lot bigger.”

Smit was 12 when he first played baseball.

“I was a shortstop and I actually got signed as a shortstop,” Smit said. “Now, I’m playing outfield and first base. I’m kind of moving around a little bit.”

The switch from shortstop to outfield came in 2008.

“I was injured for a lot of last season, through spring [training] and all the extended,” Smit said. “I played part of the season but I was still kind of rehabbing.”

Adding first base to his defensive skills came this year.

“It kind of came naturally because I’ve played infield for so long,” Smit said.

Asked which position he prefers, Smit said, “You know what? I’ll play anywhere I get at-bats, to be honest. I like outfield a lot and I like first base. A long as I get at-bats, I’m happy.”

Smit has become a veteran traveler across the Pacific Ocean.

“The first year, I was here for eight months, then I was here for seven months,” Smit said. “I’m only 19, so it’s been quite an experience to be away from family and friends for so long.

“In the offseason, I get to go home for about [half a year], which is kind of cool,” Smit said.

The weather in Goodyear, Ariz., where the Indians now hold spring training is similar to what Smit grew up with in Western Australia.

“That’s what weather back home is more like,” Smit said. “It’s a dry heat, no real humidity. It will rain, but most of the time it’s real sunny and hot.

“This is what our winter is like — not overly cold,” said Smit of Wednesday’s rain and cool temperatures. “You can [get by wearing] a t-shirt.”

That said, Smit said for the players who have been in Arizona since March are feeling chills.

“For the past three months, we’ve been in Arizona where it’s been 110 degrees every day,” Smit said. “I’m not used to the cold weather.”

Smit said the players who weren’t part of last week’s draft found out about two weeks ago where they would spend the summer.

“They called all the players in from extended spring and split up the rosters,” Smit said.

Smit prefers Arizona to Winter Haven. Fla., where the Tribe used to hold spring training.

“We weren’t in the nicest part of Florida but I still had a good time,” Smit said of the Gulf Coast League.

He’s visited Chicago and Los Angeles.

“It’s very similar to home,” Smit said of Southern California. “The life is sort of beach-oriented. I like the U.S., I like the people. I could live here.”