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Memphis to Montana, Billings Mustangs pitcher swaps football for baseball

Stangs Alex Smith.png
Posted at 4:20 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 20:15:34-04

BILLINGS - He grew up a left-handed quarterback who shares his name with an NFL quarterback. Yet here he is now, a pitcher for the Billings Mustangs.

Alex Smith is straight out of Tennessee. A place, he says, his grandpa was deeply rooted on the diamond.

"He was a baseball player from Saltillo, Tennesse. So, baseball was always in the picture at some point," Smith told MTN Sports. "But for me, it was really football growing up."

Smith started played starting in the third grade but quickly realized there were kids bigger, tougher and quicker. So, he turned to music and skateboarding.

"Broke my wrist skateboarding, so I was like, alright, I'm going to throw the skateboard thing away, let's go back to sports," he said.

Fast-forward to high school when Smith says he was recruited for football by some high Division I colleges but blew out his knee in the second game of his senior season. That opened the door for spring baseball, where he says things started to click.

Still, the hometown University of Memphis Tigers offered Smith a preferred football walk-on. And shortly after, they offered a baseball scholarship, too.

"At that point I think it was one of those tests where you never know what's going to happen," Smith said.

Smith went the football route, but not for long.

"I woke up one day in September and was like, this isn't for me anymore."

He called head baseball coach Daron Shoenrock and said he was ready to go full time on the diamond.

"I'll remind him if he doesn't have a chance to hear this, but he (Shoenrock) singled me out and said, this guy's been staying in shape all summer in football, so don't take it easy on him," Smith vividly recalled. "Sure as it is, by the last sprint I was over there throwing up and all the guys were like, awe, look at this guy."

Turns out, "this guy" developed from a right fielder into a solid left-handed pitcher.

Smith was drafted 24th round out of college by the Kansas City Royals as a relief pitcher. The Royals later released him in the final week of this season's spring training, and Mustangs manager Joe Kruzel wasted no time picking him up.

"Now I'm out here, trying to learn how to be a starter out here, you know," Smith said.

Smith has pitched in 14 games this season with 13 starts, compiling a 2-5 record. He leads the Mustangs pitching staff in most categories, including 56 innings pitched, 57 strikeouts, 39 walks and 49 earned runs.

But at the end of the day, Smith's outlook is one that Little Leaguers live for.

"You know, it's a game that 8-year-olds play and they love it, and I think that's how it should be played at this level, too," he said.

Of course, there's still that footnote of sharing his name with former NFL quarterback Alex Smith, especially since they both spent time with Kansas City.

"Yeah, it's been fun. It's cool to kind of have that," he said.