PORT ST. LUCIE — Dominic Smith attended his first NFL game last fall, watching his hometown Rams in an epic shootout with the Chiefs.
It was there Smith that watched Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a favorite athlete of his, electrify the LA Coliseum with his precision passing. And Smith soon came to a realization.
“He’s 23 years old and I am 23, so just looking at that success, you see what he can do, it helps you out,” Smith said Wednesday in the Mets clubhouse at First Data Field. “That is why I try not to worry about the past so much, because I feel like I am one good year away from everybody forgetting about the past. I am still young enough to bounce back from all of this.”
It’s understandable if Smith seems older than his actual age, as the 2013 first-round pick is beginning his third spring training in the conversation for a role with the team. To this point, he has largely disappointed, with a career .210/.259/.406 slash line in 310 at-bats over two seasons.
Last year started badly for Smith and barely improved — there was a glimmer during a September in which he hit five homers, receiving his first consistent playing time of the season.
Spring training 2018 started with Smith late for a meeting and scratched from his first exhibition game as punishment. Smith then sustained a quadriceps injury in his first Grapefruit League game and was sidelined the remainder of the spring. When he finally resurfaced from Triple-A Las Vegas, it was to play left field and share time at first base. Smith never jump-started his season.
Now the Mets are again giving him an opportunity to win a job, as he competes with Peter Alonso, J.D. Davis and Todd Frazier, who can move to first when Jed Lowrie plays third, in a crowded landscape at first base. Smith is the only left-handed hitter of the group, but the Mets are in desperate need of right-handed pop.
“I thought Dom finished the year strong,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He did a great job defensively, he covered some pitches. He’s really finally starting to find his groove. This kid is still really young. He’s been up in the big leagues parts of two years, but he is still a really young kid so I think there is still a lot more to be seen.”
Smith spent time in Arizona recently working out with new hitting coach Chili Davis, and already the two have formed a bond based on their shared Los Angeles roots.
“Chili is actually from South Central LA and a lot of areas from where I am from, so we got to connect on a bunch of different levels,” Smith said. “We had a great time together and I am looking forward and excited to seeing him and helping my career, helping my swing and just helping me every day in spring training.”
Smith blames his conditioning for the quadriceps injury that cost him most of last spring training — he dropped about 30 pounds before reporting to camp last year, but says he wasn’t as strong as he should have been.
In 2017, he had ballooned to 245 pounds and the weight became an issue after he was called up for his major league debut. Smith has kept the weight off while improving his conditioning.“What I have taken from my parts of two years in the big leagues is the best players are really athletic, they are very strong, they are explosive and they are athletes first and then good baseball players second,” Smith said.
“So I wanted to become the best athlete I could before this season and then work on my skills. I feel like I’m the best athlete I have been in my career and my skills are better than they have ever been in my career, so the type of player you are going to see this year isn’t the same player you have been seeing over the last couple years.”
Smith’s goal? Win the first-base job, excel and then invite Mahomes — whose father, Pat, was a Mets reliever in 1999 and 2000 — to Citi Field as his guest.
“I want to make a name for myself before I start hanging out with [Mahomes],” Smith said. “You want to be somebody first. It makes me more competitive and more hungry.”