When Dominic Smith arrived at Port St. Lucie, he brought with him a career .665 OPS, a new sleep apnea mask, and a burgeoning friendship with Pete Alonso, the man everyone including Smith knew had just leapfrogged him on the depth charts. But despite his brutal first two seasons in the majors, endless position and role changes, and a significant injury, his breakout year was nothing short of magical and bestowed Mets Folk Hero status on him for life.
It was easy to dismiss Smith’s dazzling Spring Training numbers because, well, it’s Spring Training and anyway wunderkind Alonso had hit even better. Sure, there were reports that Smith had been diagnosed with and treated for sleep apnea, a condition that can cause extreme fatigue, weight gain, and poor reaction time, which would provide a perfectly reasonable explanation for Smith’s struggles, but he had always been an odd duck and a .665 OPS is a whole other level of bad, and besides: Polar Bear Pete!
So it was nothing short of a head-scratcher when Brodie Van Wagenen, a new GM with no historical relationship with Smith, announced that the team would be bringing both Smith and Alonso north to start the season, and moreover that the lefty/righty duo would not be platooning. Fans and analysts alike were thrilled that Alonso wasn’t getting the Kris Bryant three-weeks-in-the-minors treatment and so gave relatively little notice to the oddity of keeping around Smith given his limited positioning and poor track record. His roster spot would likely end up going to Jed Lowrie soon anyway.
From day one, when Smith’s eighth inning pinch hit walk resulted in a key insurance run, he took his limited and somewhat unusual role and ran with it. By the end of April, his OPS was at .944, mostly as a pinch hitter, and he found himself starting in left field more and more, both due to his own prowess with the bat and injuries to the team all over the field. His defense in the outfield remains poor, but a major improvement from a brief stint out there in 2018, which still makes me cringe with embarrassment just to think about.
Smith didn’t slow down until July, when he put up some ugly numbers before succumbing to a stress reaction in his left foot, which was expected to end his season. He didn’t let that disappointment dampen his enthusiasm, though, as he remained a constant presence in the dugout, cheerleading his way through the team’s improbable late-season run, even scooting his way on field to celebrate the now-classic Michael Conforto walk-off, an image memorable enough to demand its own t-shirt.
And throughout the season, nowhere was Smith’s team-first attitude and all-around good cheer more palpable than in his friendship with Alonso. Despite their obvious roster redundancy, they remained one another’s biggest boosters, never missing an opportunity to celebrate every accomplishment. Even on a team that had as much fun as the 2019 Mets, their relationship stood out as an indicator of a squad that always felt harmonious and likeable.
The crowning moment of Smith’s resurgence came on the final day of the season. Activated during September, though seemingly still recovering from his injury, Smith had his lone at bat since hitting the injured list. Trailing the Braves by two runs in the bottom of the 11th, Smith came to the plate with two men on and two outs and put a 1-0 fastball (from a lefty, no less) over the fence to walk it off, a moment that will surely stay with him, and us, no matter where his career takes him.
At the end of it all, Smith’s .282/.355/.525 line over 197 plate appearances blew his career numbers out of the water. He was one of the best pinch hitters in baseball and finally showed the ability to hit well to all fields that had been his calling card early in the minors. Despite the time lost to injury, it was a resounding success for one of the game’s most likeable players.
What comes next for Smith, though, is less clear. While he would likely be a great weapon off the bench, the Mets might find that his best value at this stage would be via trade given that he has no position with the team’s current construction. But other teams, just like the Mets, will be justifiably worried about his drop off in July, his defensive woes, and whether or not his BABIP-inflated numbers will carry over to next year. It may be that another year as a part-time player will help answer those questions or if there’s a deal out there too good to pass on, Smith may up answering them for a different team altogether.
One thing is certain - Smith and his scooter have wheeled their way into Mets fans’ hearts forever and no one deserved a moment in the sun more than he did.