Rodney Smith, left, will play his final baseball game in a Mundy’s Mill uniform this evening. Smith is coached by his father, Patrick. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — Patrick Smith says there will be something different when he fills out the Mundy’s Mill line-up card before this evening’s home game against Union Grove.
It will make the last time that Smith will be able to write the name of Rodney Smith on the card.
Chances are it will be pretty emotional for the father-son combination when the younger Smith is honored during Senior Day pre-game ceremonies. Smith is a senior infielder headed to Minnesota next school year on a football scholarship.
“We are close as a father and son,” the coach said. “I know I’ve been tough on him some as a kid, but found out that we could definitely co-exist in this game. I’ve always tried to be fair with all my players. I’ve given him his space to mature and grow. It has definitely been an honor to coach him. I tell you that I’m glad that kid is on my team.”
Although the team hasn’t fared as well this season, Smith has been a steady performer for the Tigers. He is hitting .600 with 26 runs and 12 RBI as the lead-off batter. He also has 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts.
“It is going to be a bitter-sweet moment (today),” Rodney said. “I never thought much about it. You never think you are going to play your last high school game. It has been really great playing at Mundy’s Mill. I’ve had a lot of fun. I really don’t know what to say about it. He has always been my coach.”
Both say they have a close bond that goes beyond sports. Patrick, who is also Mundy’s Mill athletic director, was the football team’s offensive coordinator.
“He has always been there for me as a father and friend,” Rodney said. “I can talk to my dad about anything. I love the relationship we have as a father and son. It has really been special.”
In February, Rodney signed a football scholarship with Minnesota. The all-state running back rushed for 2,201 yards and 26 touchdowns to lead the Tigers to the Class AAAAA quarterfinals, the best season in school history.
He missed last baseball season after recovering from a knee injury sustained in football. As a junior, he rushed for 1,575 yards and 15 touchdowns in nine games before the season-ending injury against Ola.
“I felt coming into the season that I was ready,” Rodney said. “I was really excited.”
Patrick said he long awaited the time when he could coach Rodney on the high school level. He first put a bat in his hands as a 5-year-old, and a year later taught him how to play football.
The elder Smith played college baseball at Rust College in his home state of Mississippi. As a youngster growing up in Tupelo, Smith was coached in high school by his dad.
At that time, he knew he would like to do the same for his son.
“My dad taught me a lot about sports and life,” Smith said. “My goal was to get him ready for the next level. This is only the first stage of his life. I think he is ready for the next stage.”
Rodney will report to Minnesota in June for summer school and offseason workouts.
Those plans could change with the June baseball draft. Depending on where he is drafted and the contract being offer, the family could decide to forgo college and pursue a professional baseball career.
“It is a decision we will make at that time,” Rodney said. “I’m just trying to finish up the season on a high note. I’m looking forward to the future.”