Baseball: Kevin Smith leaves St Laurence for Lincoln-Way NorthMatt Aikens of Lyons is tagged out during a rundown by Kevin Smith #7. St. Laurence plays Lyons, the defending Class 4A state champions, in a baseball sectional semifinal at Mt. Carmel High School on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: June 4, 2012 6:37PM
If there was any doubt over who the SouthtownStar’s 2013 preseason No. 1 baseball team was going to be, it vanished with Monday’s news that one of the area’s most productive two-way players has transferred.
Kevin Smith, one of the top players in the Class of 2013, enrolled Monday at Lincoln-Way North — just five days after playing shortstop for St. Laurence in the Vikings’ season-ending 8-3 loss to Lyons in a Class 4A Mount Carmel Sectional semifinal.
Geesh. I hope Smith, a terrific infielder/pitcher, had time to at least wash and dry his St. Laurence uniform before handing it in.
He joins a Lincoln-Way North team that won 32 games and figures to return seven starters and its top two pitchers.
The Phoenix was among three or four teams vying for next season’s preseason No. 1. Ironically, one of those teams was St. Laurence, this season’s No. 1, which likely was returning four starting pitchers.
Make that three with the loss of Smith.
Adding Smith, who was 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA on the mound and hit .363 with three homers and 25 RBI, makes North the team to beat in 2013.
“It’s true,” Smith’s father, also named Kevin, said of the transfer. “The opportunity to play with his friends and the location (of St. Laurence) were the biggest things. Kevin grew up with the kids at Lincoln-Way North. He still hangs around with them. He lives with his mother a block from the school.
“It takes Kevin 45 minutes to go to St. Laurence and 45 minutes to get back. He had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to go to school. He’d come home from school and fall asleep at the table doing his homework. It cost $400 a month in gas for Kevin to go to school.
“But we left everything on good terms with St. Laurence. He loves coach Pete (Lotus). That was the hardest thing for him to do — tell coach Pete he was leaving.”
It’s been a tough few weeks for St. Laurence, which endured the fallout from an ugly brawl with St. Rita and now loses its top player.
Calls to Lotus were not returned, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say losing Smith for his senior season felt like a punch to the gut — not solely from a production standpoint, mind you.
Lotus and his staff didn’t devote their considerable time and effort to develop Smith, only to have the kid up and leave his senior year.
Smith has been a starter on the varsity for two seasons. He batted cleanup this season, pitched all of the big Saturday Catholic League games and has committed to Creighton University.
What more could Lotus or any other coach have done to satisfy a player and his family, short of moving the school to Mokena?
Welcome to the new world of high school baseball, which is increasingly beginning to resemble boys basketball, where the definition of loyalty is, “What have you done for me lately?”
Baseball hasn’t devolved to that point yet. Yet.
What AAU ball has done to hoops — turned it into a transfer merry-go-round — summer travel ball is doing to high school baseball. Players and their families consider themselves bigger than the schools they attend. Teammates are not lifelong friends, but more like casual acquaintances.
Coaches must take some of the blame — especially those who bait players and parents with promises like varsity playing time to incoming freshmen.
I’m not saying Smith’s move was spurred by those factors. But, rest assured, there will be additional transfers this summer that are.
Whether for an opportunity to play on a more successful program or receive more playing time, transfers are becoming as common as a 2-and-0 fastball.
Last year’s most high-profile transfer was Ryan Koziol, from Brother Rice to Providence. Unlike Koziol, Smith’s transfer will go smoothly, since he’s transferring to a public school where his family has residency.
“I’m so happy with the three years Kevin spent at St. Laurence,” the elder Smith said. “It turned him into a man.”
I know what you’re thinking: Would Smith had transferred to North if it weren’t regarded as one of the elite teams next season?
“He just wants to play with his friends, have fun and have a great experience his senior year,” Smith said.