By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Eric Smith is a 48-year-old player and league liaison with city officials for field usage in the Mid-South (Memphis) MSBL. His league president, Paul Tingley, wrote a wonderful note to us in response to our request for some of the league’s movers and shakers to interview, as we celebrate the 35th year of MSBL. Here are some of Paul’s comments:
“I have a player, Eric Smith, who was injured last year, missed the post-season, and ended up having major back surgery this year, missing the entire season. Meanwhile, he has been my right-hand man for getting access to playing fields and liaising with the school admin and coaches to maintain our relationship and ensure continued use of the fields.
He has done all of this despite not being able to play a single game this year. He definitely deserves recognition for all the work he did to secure fields for the rest of us to play on while he was forced to watch from the sidelines due to the lingering effects of his back injury.”
We caught up with Eric recently and asked him to fill in some blanks for us.
“I started playing in the Memphis league in 2012 and put in an enjoyable eight years of baseball before my back started dealing me fits,” explained Smith. “I had been hitting nearly .700 before the back pain struck. My nerve pain got to the point where when I was standing in left field, I was hoping nobody would hit it out there. I was able to walk about ten feet and then had to sit down. I knew it was time to do something about it.”
Eric explained that it may stem from a high school football injury that finally took its toll, though he is unsure.
“I am six foot and maybe 240 pounds and have always been athletic. This hit all of the sudden. Arthritis also plays a part, as per the doctors. They call it spinal stenosis. My first surgery was in March of 2022, which sidelined my playing but I was still able to work with Paul (Tingley, league president) and the city to make sure our guys had a quality place to play.”
Eric tries to keep the goals of both the Memphis league and the town’s playing facilities in mind to create a ‘win-win’ situation and a relationship for years to come, and not just a ‘one-off’ to get games in.
“I try hard to secure fields with schools that would benefit from the MSBL field rental money so that I can maintain the perfect marriage of trust and hard work physically on the fields. We feel good about the fields this past year and look forward to a smooth 2023.”
The Mid-South MSBL is currently made up of 40+ and 55+ divisions while Eric plays for the River Rats in the ’40s.
“This will be my tenth season with the Rats and in six of the nine years we have played in the finals but never won. We remain one of the more successful teams but we can’t quite get over the hump. As a team, what we are very proud of is that about half of our guys are ex-military and five guys graduated from various academies. We enjoy tailgating as much as playing, maybe even more! Game days become day-long events. Just hanging out is fun. This is truly a unique and close-knit bunch.”
Eric is also an MSBL National Tournament veteran.
“In 2021 I went to Arizona for the World Series and played for the Mid-South Blues in the 45+ Cactus division. Arizona was amazing and I loved it, but I was in quite a bit of pain and couldn’t help much. I look forward to getting back down there soon.”
As previously mentioned, Eric’s surgery was in March of 2022 but things weren’t progressing as expected and he had to have a second surgery just a few weeks ago. Though it was a setback, the prognosis is looking good.
“I may not be able to play until late this coming season but I can still continue to perform my league duties for Paul. I haven’t picked up a bat since 2021 but I can now sit upright, though it is still painful. But things look hopeful.”
As 2023 approaches, what are some of the league duties he needs to start working on for the next season?
“About Mid-January we will put the schedule together for the coming year. I will also instigate target marketing to attract new players and teams. As the season progresses I enjoy talking to the coaches every week and reminding them of what is going on. It is all about communication and always being available.
During the season there is a lot of back and forth because of rain, field or disciplinary problems, etc. I will continue to physically go out and prep the fields with sand, raking, dragging baselines, or whatever needs to be done. I have to make sure everything is unlocked and then after the games, I will go back and make sure the fields are locked and cleaned up. It’s not easy to do, based on my physical problems right now, but I love remaining a part of the league.
The managers know how to police themselves during and after games and also know how precious our relationship is with the schools and the city. They always make sure the fields are immaculate and I routinely go back and inspect the fields just as a precaution.”
I asked Eric if there was a fondest memory of his time in the league over this past decade. He came up with an immediate answer but it wasn’t anything to do with him.
“My dad is now 75 years old and has had both his shoulder and knee replaced. He has always coached us as we grew up and loves the game. After 55 years away from playing, in 2021 he decided to come back to the game and joined one of our 55-over teams. In his first game, at the age of 73, he got his first hit in 55 years and it was against an ex-major leaguer! You can’t make that stuff up. It is easily my biggest thrill from the league.”