Los Angeles

Dodgers' Will Smith Shines in Major League Debut

The Los Angeles Dodgers' 24-year-old catcher Will Smith made his MLB debut on Tuesday night, and the "Fresh Prince," did not disappoint.

Now, this is a story all about how his life got flipped-turned upside down, and I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, I'll tell you how he became the fresh prince of team called the Dodgers.

He's heard the joke countless times. "Your name is the same as that actor!"

Growing up with the name Will Smith must be hard. Endless "getting jiggy with it," jokes, references to Jada Pinkett Smith, and every time you put on sunglasses people say "don't wipe my memory!" (it's called a neuralizer people).

Needless to say, to share a name with one of the most popular actors in the world has got to be a bit annoying. Thankfully, growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Smith managed to stay far away from the bright lights of Hollywood that the actor that shares his name is known for.

At least he was able to until Tuesday night...

Smith made his Major League debut at Dodger Stadium and shined in a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets.

At 24-years-old, Smith has learned to embrace the name "Will Smith." His nickname growing up was "Fresh Prince," and he's stuck with it into his professional career.

As he walked to the plate for his first at-bat against Steven Matz, it came full circle when the theme song for the show by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Smith himself, blared over the PA system.

As he stepped in the box for his first big league at-bat, he didn't look anything like the baby-faced rookie he was. Smith laced a single into left field for his first career hit, and roped a double to left-center later in the game, to finish 2-for-4 in his MLB debut.

"It was awesome," a smiling Smith said after the game. "It's good to be thrown right into the fire."

Like most rookies when they get the news their getting called up to the Show, Smith has had a whirlwind last 48 hours.

Smith received the news from Oklahoma City Dodgers manager Travis Barbary after starting catcher Austin Barnes left Sunday's game in Pittsburgh with a left groin strain. His first call was to his parents, Mark and Julie, then he boarded a flight from Ohama to Los Angeles where he was greeted by Dodgers' clubhouse manager Alex Torres on Monday morning.

"The last 12 to 24 hours have been awesome soaking it in a little bit," Smith said. "A little anxious to get here and kind of get rolling."

Smith has been rolling towards the major leagues for most of his life. As a senior at Kentucky Country Day School, he batted .528 with 11 home runs, 36 RBI and went 7-1 with a 0.87 ERA as a pitcher.

He was converted into a catcher in college where he attended nearby Louisville. In his sophomore and junior years, he helped the Cardinals reach the Super Regional Finals in back-to-back seasons. As a junior, Smith slashed .382/.480/.567 in 55 games. He was selected by the Dodgers in the first round (32nd overall) in the 2016 MLB Draft.

As he rose up the ranks, scouts began to pay attention as Smith was named the Dodgers No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline in 2019, with a scouting report that reads:

"Smith has outstanding athleticism for a catcher and it translates into quality defense behind the plate. His average to solid arm strength plays as plus because he has quick footwork. With his soft hands and agility, he receives and frames well, and he also has shown he's a capable third baseman and passable second baseman.

Los Angeles has had Smith add loft to his right-handed swing, and he has shown more power than he did at Louisville while seeing his strikeout rate soar from 10 percent in college to 24 percent in his first three years as a pro. He probably won't produce much in the way of batting average, but he could provide 15-20 homers per season along with a healthy amount of walks. He also has solid speed and can steal an occasional base."

Smith was batting .290 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .954 OPS at Triple-A this season before his call-up, and caught both Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during their rehab starts earlier this year. So Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts was ready to throw him into the fire at starting catcher in just his second day in Los Angeles.

"Don’t let that little clean-shaven baby face fool you," said Roberts. "This guy is as tough as they come and a really good competitor."

A lot of Smith's family and friends flew out from Kentucky to watch his MLB debut on Tuesday and told NBC LA that Smith is an impractical joker who's kind, down to earth, and a big fan of Dairy Queen.

Smith was excited, and a little starstruck after the game, but you could see his disappointment that the Dodgers lost bothering him.

"I’ve always been a very competitive person," Smith said. "There’s nothing I hate more than losing and nothing I love more than winning. Though I don’t show my emotions, I feel like I play with a fiery edge, where I’m gonna destroy the pitcher on the mound or get these guys out at the plate."

Smith said he's ready to turn the page and do whatever it takes to help the Dodgers win on Wednesday, but regardless of the outcome, this kid has the right attitude and a bright future in the big leagues.

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