Disabato: Lincoln-Way North’s Kevin Smith ready to face former St. Laurence teammates
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @disabato May 15, 2013 9:06PM
Lincoln-Way North's Kevin Smith pitches vs. Joliet West. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Follow Pat on Twitter: @disabato
Updated: June 18, 2013 7:20AM
As if the prospect of the Nos. 1 and 2 baseball teams playing Thursday isn’t enough to make the heart flutter with excitement, the added turbulence of a player facing his old teammates for the first time certainly should.
Not just any player, mind you, but one who started on the varsity for three seasons and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Catholic League Blue as a junior in 2012.
That would be Kevin Smith, who transferred to Lincoln-Way North from St. Laurence in June. The young man can play the game at a level few others can, be it on the mound, at third base or at the plate.
That’s why when Smith announced he was transferring for his senior season, it caused the same reaction as two longtime sweethearts breaking up.
In some instances, though, the reaction was more of a DeMarini to the head.
At 4:45 p.m. Thursday at Benedictine University in Lisle, Smith will toe the rubber leading the No. 1 Phoenix against the No. 2 Vikings in the Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament.
It would be understandable for Smith to be a little nervous facing his old teammates.
But he’s not. He can’t wait for the game to arrive.
“I love all those kids to death,” Smith said of his old St. Laurence pals. “But friendship isn’t going to cut it for this game. It’s going to be a whole other feeling when we step inside the lines. They’re the enemy. This is the game everyone wants to see, No. 1 vs. No. 2. We plan on keeping our No. 1 spot.”
Smith is 7-0 with an 0.69 ERA and is hitting .409 with 12 doubles, three homers and 32 RBI. The Phoenix is 29-1 and has been the No. 1 team since the preseason. Smith’s impact is undeniable — not only from a production standpoint but for his ability to perform under pressure.
“It was multiple things,” said Smith of why he transferred. “It was costing my family a lot of money. I was waking up at 4:30 (a.m.) and not getting home till 8:30 (p.m.). I was eating dinner by myself when I got home. I just wasn’t happy anymore.”
When he speaks of his old school, despite what many might believe, there isn’t an ounce of animosity or disdain in his words. He still has friends on the team and remains a major supporter of St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus, referring to him as a second father.
“Coach Pete did a lot for me,” Smith said.
Smith doesn’t lack confidence. When it was announced months ago that Lincoln-Way North and St. Laurence would meet, Smith’s first reaction was that he wanted the ball.
“I told coach (Joe Skarbek) I got to pitch that game,” said Smith, who will attend Creighton in the fall. “I’m so glad I get to pitch. That’s what I wanted. This is going to be the most exciting game of my life.”
Smith could have played the “wimp clause” and asked not to pitch, knowing the mound is where the spotlight shines brightest. But he didn’t, and I admire that.
He’s well aware St. Laurence fans are going to be riding him hard the first time he steps out of the dugout. Smith understands the bitterness and is prepared for the verbal onslaught from Vikings fans whom, I’ve been told, have at least two fan buses for Thursday’s game.
“I’d be upset at me, too,” Smith said. “But one of my biggest strengths is my mental toughness. I’m just going to play my game, no matter what the fans are screaming at me. It’s been like that everywhere we’ve played.”
I have a feeling this verbal barrage will be different, like comparing a high school musical to a Guns N’ Roses concert.
To its credit, St. Laurence is taking the high road. If you recall, the Vikings were involved in an ugly benches-clearing brawl with St. Rita in the same tournament last year. They have to be on their best behavior.
I’m quite certain that inside some corners of the St. Laurence locker room, Smith is about as popular as a 5 a.m. practice.
But the Vikings understand that a disgruntled player is of no good to the team. They’ve moved on.
“If he didn’t want to be at St. Laurence, it probably wouldn’t have been a good situation anyway,” Lotus said of Smith sticking around his senior season. “If you don’t believe in this program, these coaches, these players, this school, you’re better off not being here.
“I know our guys want to win this game bad. I just want our guys to go out and have the same intensity like they have every game. When Kevin said he was transferring, I firmly believed that we would still be a pretty good team without him.”
St. Laurence, which this year won its second Catholic League Blue championship in three years, is beyond “pretty good.” The Vikings are a legitimate contender for the Class 4A state title, along with the Phoenix.
That, coupled with the Smith drama, is why this is a must-see match-up.
I can only compare it to when quarterback Zak Kustok transferred in 1995 to Sandburg from Lincoln-Way. When the two teams squared off in Orland Park, the atmosphere was surreal. Anyone who was in attendance will never forget that night. Lincoln-Way fans felt betrayed; Sandburg fans rejoiced.
Kustok went on to lead Sandburg to a victory against Lincoln-Way and then to the Class 6A semifinals, the only time in the program’s history it has advanced that far.
Win or lose Thursday night, there are bigger fish to fry for Lincoln-Way North and St. Laurence in the weeks ahead.
But there’s no denying this game, no matter the outcome, will be one that won’t soon be forgotten.