Baseball: Kevin Smith finds niche at Lincoln-Way North
TIM O’BRIEN For Sun-Times Media April 17, 2013 7:56PM
Lincoln-Way North runnew Kevin Smith is met by Corey Krupske after Smith scored against Joliet West. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2013 6:09AM
Lincoln-Way North’s Kevin Smith just wants to play some ball.
When weather forced the Phoenix inside for practice through the early weeks of the season and canceled several games, Smith and teammate Corey Krupske looked for a solution. The senior duo called local colleges to see if some high school games could be played on their fields.
“We were really tired of being inside, and a high school player can only take so much,” Smith said with a laugh. “We’re hungry, we wanted to play and we worked with what we had.”
If the games at collegiate fields didn’t work out, so be it. Smith just wants to play some ball.
The 6-foot-3 shortstop/pitcher is one of many headliners on a team bursting at the seams with talent. The Phoenix sits at No. 1 in the SouthtownStar baseball rankings, where it began the season.
Returning eight starters and pitching depth from a 33-6 squad, North was a team to watch over the summer, when Smith transferred from St. Laurence. The Catholic League’s Most Outstanding Player and a three-year starter, Smith made the difficult decision and braced for the consequences.
“I grew so close with a lot of people, and it was a really hard decision,” Smith said. “It came down to it just wasn’t for me. I had to do it. I’m happy at L-W North, but at the same time, St. Laurence is a huge part of who I am in my maturity and work ethic.”
When the transfer was announced in June, Smith ran the gamut in terms of responses. Some were happy for him. Others, not so much.
“Responses were sad, mad, angry, happy, all of it,” Smith said. “It was a mixed group. Some people thought I’d turned on St. Laurence and the team, but that’s not how it was. Others were glad for me.”
Smith did his best to take it in stride, answering all the texts and messages he received from friends, teammates, classmates and family after the switch.
“Kevin has been a master of diplomacy, maybe took some classes on it,” Phoenix coach Joe Skarbek said. “He’s handled everything the right way. He’s a good teammate, supports his teammates and fits right in.”
Now he’s ready to start fresh. The Phoenix (11-0) is off to a hot start. Smith has found his niche, and he’s excited to show it. The senior says bring on the pressure from high expectations and rankings.
“We’re more than excited,” Smith said. “The softball team walks by in the field house when we’re practicing, and they say you can just feel the intensity. We’re always screaming, yelling. We’re happy to be playing.”
North will be tested early and often, but fans have May 16 circled on their calendars, when the Phoenix will play St. Laurence in pool play at Benedictine University in the Do It Stevie’s Way Tournament.
Smith knows what the game means. He said he will try to take it all in stride, but ...
“I’m not nervous, and I’m going to treat it like it is any other game, but it’s not,” Smith said. “I’m going to play as hard as I can, and I know everyone else will too. Play like it is any other game, but I don’t want it to be about me.”
While he has enough on his plate, Smith has committed to Creighton in Omaha, Neb. Having played at a tournament in Omaha when he was 10, he fell for the town hard.
“It’s such a baseball town,” Smith said. “The city is insane, can’t even describe it. I wanted to make it back to Omaha (and Creighton).”
His sights are set on a strong finish to his high school career strong.
“If we play as friends and teammates, I don’t think there’s anyone who can stop us.”