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Pitcher chosen in MLB draft almost gave up baseball

In early June, Whitworth pitcher Hugh Smith '19 got the call that changed his life: The Detroit Tigers had selected him in the sixth round of the MLB draft.

"Being drafted means the world to me," Smith says. "It is a culmination of all of my hard work and the time and effort that I put in."

The chance to play professional baseball is an incredible opportunity that very nearly didn't happen. After high school, Smith planned to attend the University of Washington and was resigned to giving up the sport he loves. But after being scouted by CJ Perry, now Whitworth's head baseball coach, and visiting campus the summer after high school, Smith changed his plans.

"I chose Whitworth because of the opportunity to continue to play baseball and still receive a great education," he says. "Whitworth had what I was looking for in a school academically and small class sizes, so I could have a more personal relationship with my professors. In visiting campus, I was really struck by the atmosphere and how beautiful campus was, and everyone I saw or met was extremely friendly."

With an interest in genetics, Smith majored in biochemistry. In addition to growing a lot in his game at Whitworth, the right-hander also grew about 3 more inches, and now stands at a towering 6 feet, 9 inches.

"I have learned a ton from CJ about the mental part of the game and building my own confidence in my abilities and what I can do," he says. "Also, being able to have 35 other guys there every day to talk to and share ideas with and learn how to be successful from has been amazing."

Smith believes his strong work ethic has been key to his success. "I put in a lot of time and effort on my own and with the guys," he says, "and I really focus on each and every rep in order to get better and keep improving."

Smith is the fifth player in Whitworth's history to be selected in the MLB draft (in a first for Whitworth, another Pirate, Joel Condreay, '18, was later selected in the same draft as Smith). Smith was home with his family in Sammamish, Wash., when he received the news. "I just hugged my parents and my sister because they have been there for me for every step of this long journey," he says, "and I am extremely grateful and appreciative of them."

Smith is now headed out for physicals and will then play in the minor leagues. He hopes he'll stay happy and healthy and continue to improve as he moves up through the ranks. But leaving the Whitworth Pirates isn't easy.

"I have had an amazing experience on the team – it's been everything I could have dreamed of," he says. "Being able to go out and compete in the sport I love has been awesome, but the time I have been able to spend with the guys on the team has been life-changing. I truly love each and every one of them, and making the decision to leave has been one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Looking back, Smith says he is certain he wouldn't be playing baseball if he had taken his original college route.

"I honestly cannot even imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't ended up in Spokane," Smith says. "I am eternally grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have had at Whitworth, as well as the friendships that I made."

Smith may be leaving Whitworth, but he'll be thinking of his teammates on Merkel Field.

"To the boys on the Merk, I love you," he says. "I'll be back soon and often."