By Joseph Beyda
Junior Eric Smith, the starting catcher for the No. 6 Stanford baseball team, took over behind the plate this season after two years as a backup infielder. He currently leads the Cardinal (20-7, 4-5 Pac-12) with a .360 batting average, recently getting three hits and an RBI in the team’s 19-6 win at Cal on Monday. Smith recently sat down with The Daily to discuss Pac-12 baseball, the team’s midseason slump and catching for first-round draft picks.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Eric, you’re 25 games into your first season as a starting catcher and you’re currently the team’s best hitter. What have you been doing right at the plate so far this year?
Eric Smith (ES): One of my big things is just trying to stay as relaxed and calm at the plate as possible. I try to not let past at-bats, past pitches, past whatever’s happened previously in the game or previously in other games affect what I’m trying to do at the plate. Every at-bat is its own at-bat, and nothing from the past should impact how you’re doing now, because if you carry at-bats, you carry calls, you carry strikeouts or you carry bad outcomes, it’s going to affect you during an at-bat or during a game.
So I just try and take every pitch as its own and cherish every moment that I have up there with these guys. I just look for a continual goal I can [accomplish] at the plate, whether it’s moving a guy up, getting a sac fly or trying to get a hit.
TSD: You come in as a catcher for your first time at Stanford, and all of a sudden you’re catching guys like juniors Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham, who are both likely to be first-rounders this summer. What has it been like with those guys on the mound?
ES: This being my first year as a catcher, having to catch guys like Appel and Mooney–and even some of the guys like [senior reliever Dean] McArdle and [freshman closer David] Schmidt–you’re definitely thrown into the fire right away. There are generally growing periods where I’m not used to catching them, to develop my catcher-pitcher relationship with them, but when they’re going good like they have been all year it makes my job pretty easy. I just have to throw up my glove and they’re going to hit it most of the time. They’re awesome to work with, and it’s truly awesome to be working with future first-round picks and possibly future major leaguers.
TSD: For the team, there was that really frustrating stretch where you guys dropped that last game to USC and then got swept by Arizona. What do you think you guys have been doing better to pull yourselves out of that slump?
ES: In baseball that’s why we play so many games, because stretches like this are going to happen to teams, and even the best teams. [Recent No. 1] Florida has lost back-to-back series.
I think one of the major adjustments we’ve made is to try and let go of some of the frustrations people are having at the plate. People are going to go through spots, people are not going to be hitting the ball as well as they like to. I mean, everyone who’s played baseball has experienced this. I think that period where we didn’t play our best baseball allows people to truly figure out their approach, how they should go about playing mentally. I think this kind of stretch will really help us going forward to the playoffs, and hopefully to the College World Series.
TSD: Talk a little bit about that 19-6 win at Cal on Monday. It must’ve felt pretty good to get a bunch of crooked numbers up on the scoreboard again.
ES: When we were at Arizona, and even at Washington a little bit, we kind of had our bats cool off a little bit. But having a game like that where we scored 19 runs and everyone’s getting hits, everyone’s getting RBIs and everyone’s hitting the ball hard, it’s just a huge confidence boost and it really just goes back to, “Oh, this is the type of team we are.” We’re the type of team that’s going to put up monster numbers at the plate and score tons of runs every game. I think that’s what we just got back to and we kind of started getting our confidence back a little bit, which is real nice to see.
TSD: Looking forward, where do you see the most room for improvement for yourself, and for the team as a whole?
ES: For myself, I think it’s to try to develop better as a catcher. I do everything I can to help the pitching staff and to help the team win, whether it’s catching or hitting or doing whatever I can. As a team, I think this stretch that we’ve had–between USC, Arizona and Washington–we won four games in that stretch, and I think that stretch really gives us a kick-start, a little reality shock, which is never a bad thing.
Monday really showed that we got back to our basics and back to our roots as the talented team that we are. I think that if we just maintain the same plate approach, plate discipline and level of enjoyment of playing every day, I think we’ll be good going forward.
TSD: Lastly, you have the Oregon Ducks coming to town this weekend. The series in Eugene a year ago was really back and forth, with both teams getting a comeback win. What do you think is the key to pulling out the series this weekend?
ES: They’re a real good team. They just took two out of three at UCLA, a top-10 team at the time. This is going to be a really good test for us, but it’s like that every weekend in the Pac-12. It will be nice to get back home and play in front of our fans again.
I think one of the big keys will be doing what we’ve been doing all year, throwing strikes and playing good defense, because a team like Oregon will really hurt you if you make too many defensive and pitching mistakes. As far as offense goes, I just think we need to carry the momentum that we had from Saturday’s game at Washington and from Cal on Monday, just carry that forward to this weekend.