By Jeffery Armstrong
Jonesboro High's Chris Smith was destined to play baseball, said his proud father Richard Smith.
Richard said when Chris was born in 1986, he took a friend's Nerf baseball and placed it in the newborn's hand. Young Chris held it and then squeezed it tightly.
"I knew right then that I had a ball player on my hands," said Richard. "I knew that my little ?Bubba' would do well in baseball."
Smith has gone from squeezing a foam baseball to squeezing a pen, signing a letter of intent to play college baseball at South Georgia College last Friday evening at Jonesboro.
Smith looks forward to the challenge of playing catcher at South Georgia College, a junior college located in Douglas.
"This feels great. I have the opportunity to play college ball and I'm ready to play," he said. "I like the school's facilities and the coaches. They told me that if I work hard and produce in practice, I can start right away."
Smith said he plans to prepare for South Georgia immediately, working on getting stronger, getting quicker and getting better offensively.
"I'll head to the batting cages as soon as possible," said Smith, who recently graduated with a 3.4 grade point average.
Smith's mother Becky believes her son will do whatever it takes to be successful at South Georgia. She said he's been that way throughout his life.
"Chris is very focused and very confident and I have no doubt that he will pursue his goals and dreams in baseball," said Becky, who was the editor of the Jonesboro baseball team newsletter. "I've always admired his dedication, persistence and dedication to baseball. I'm extremely proud of him for getting this opportunity."
Becky said it's good for her son to go away to school.
"I'm glad he will go to a small school at first and then transfer to a bigger school later," she said. "The Douglas community seems to back the baseball program, which is a good thing."
Richard said watching his son sign the scholarship letter was "a dream come true." He said that all the years of hard work, starting when Chris was four, has paid off.
"When he was very young, I would throw tennis balls at him, especially in the dirt, so he could learn how catchers block the balls," said Richard. "He's learned so much since then. His quickness is great and his arm strength has gotten much better."
Richard also said Chris' throws to second have improved tremendously over the years.
"Instead of throwing rain shots to second, he's throwing the ball on line," he said. "The pitchers have to duck now."
What has impressed Richard about his son is what Chris will do after they finish a long day of hitting and catching drills. Richard said he and Chris will be leaving and if Chris spots a couple of youngsters playing pitch and catch, he will go over and teach the youth all he knows about being a catcher.
"He'll stay with those kids for about an hour and a half, helping them out," said Richard. "He's even given away some catching equipment to them."
Jonesboro head coach Don Corr said Smith will definitely do well at South Georgia, a school that's recruited his athletes in the past.
"He's always put the time and effort in and I know he'll do that at South Georgia. I always saw him working out by himself on the field," Corr said. "He's always tried to make himself a better player."