Jimmy Smiley

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James Bergin Smiley

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Biographical Information[edit]

Jimmy Smiley is a professional baseball player who was a Division I relief pitcher in the Ivy League for the Columbia University Lions after being an All-Conference starter and captain for the Division III Whitman College Blues.

Born in Glendale, California Smiley attended Crescenta Valley High School where he was a two-sport athlete and top student. An All-League selection as a junior, he helped the school’s baseball team win the Pacific League championship in 2014. The following year he started 4-0 with a 1.87 ERA while leading the team in most offensive categories before sustaining a strained ulnar collateral ligament.

In his secondary sport of basketball he was a two-year varsity letterman on a league-championship squad. Academically, he graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and earned a perfect score on the mathematics portion of the SAT.

Whitman College[edit]

Smiley was recruited to help build the newly resuscitated baseball program at New York University where he was accepted via early-decision. Turned away by the tuition cost, he instead opted to enroll at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in September of 2015. In December of that year Smiley severely strained his labrum while playing intramural basketball, ending his freshman baseball season before it started.

On February 12, 2017 the redshirt-freshman made his college debut, pitching 4 1/3 innings against Claremont College striking out 4 and walking 1 in a no-decision. On March 4th Smiley threw 3 innings in relief to earn his first win. His first save came at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, in a game against Centre College of Kentucky. Summoned into a 3-1 game in the 8th inning with the tying runs on base and one out, Smiley quickly quieted the Colonels' rally. He retired all five batters he faced to earn the save.

The following season Smiley blossomed as a starter. In his season debut at Claremont, Smiley had a quality start, allowing 2 runs in 6 innings and earning the team’s first win of the season. Hampered by arm and shoulder issues, Smiley made the most of his 7 starts, earning wins in each of his final 4 outings. On March 11th vs. Willamette University he allowed just 1 run in 5 innings to get the victory. Eleven days later he struck out 3 in 6 innings to earn the win at Whitworth College. His final road outing and start was a scoreless affair in a win against the University of Puget Sound.

Whitman tabbed Smiley as the starter in the final home game of the season. In his last trip to the mound at Borleske Stadium, Smiley held Lewis and Clark College scoreless to earn the win.

His 3-0 record and 3.78 ERA in Northwest Conference play put him on the All-Conference team. In two seasons at Whitman, Smiley went 7-3 with two saves. In his two seasons when Smiley was not involved in the decision or save, Whitman won 28 of 66 contests – a .424 winning percentage.

Academically he was named to the All-Academic Northwest Conference team for 2017-2018 and graduated from Whitman in three years with a physics degree and a math minor.

Columbia University[edit]

In April, 2018 Smiley was accepted to Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. He successfully walked on to the baseball team and made his NCAA Division I debut for Columbia on March 1, 2019 at the University of Oklahoma against the Sooners. Striking out the first batter he faced, Smiley held the Big 12 team scoreless for both innings he pitched.

In his next outing at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Smiley again held his opponent to no runs, working 2 1/3 innings. The team then traveled to Jacksonville, FL to face the University of North Florida against whom Smiley earned his first Division I decision. Entering a tie game in the 11th inning, he tossed two more frames without allowing a run as the Lions rallied in the 12th to give him the win.

Smiley threw a scoreless 8th at the University of Miami in the next game as the Columbia squad bested the Hurricanes 4-2. In his two other non-league outings, Smiley struck out two at St. John's University in one scoreless inning of work against the Big East Conference foe and earned the win against Army at West Point, NY.

In Ivy League competition Smiley also performed well. In a 2-1 win over Princeton University he recorded the final 11 outs of the game to earn his first DI save. Against Yale University he earned a win and a save in the same weekend. On April 8th, Smiley was named to the Weekly Ivy League Honor Roll for his work at Yale and St. John's. Columbia finished the season tied for the best record in the Ivy League before finishing just short of the NCAA playoffs, losing to Harvard University in the Ivy League Championship Series.

In ten outings on the road, Smiley had a sparkling 0.54 ERA. Six of his 13 appearances in 2019 came against teams that played in the post-season - either in the NCAA playoffs or in their conference playoffs. In eight innings against those clubs he put up a 1.13 ERA, struck out six, and did not walk a batter. For the year, his win/loss record stood at 3-0 with two saves. When he did not earn a win or a save, Columbia was victorious in 14 of 37 contests, a .378 winning percentage.

Academically, Smiley was named to Columbia's Dean's List and gained acceptance to the integrated master's degree program for mechanical engineering.

Northwoods League[edit]

In May, 2019, Smiley signed a full-season contract to play for the Waterloo Bucks of the summer collegiate Northwoods League. Known for sending its players to the professional ranks, the Northwoods League averaged 163 players chosen in the Major League draft from 2009-2018. Over that span the league boasted 34 player appearances in the big league All Star game.

Smiley had a 4-1 record with four saves for Waterloo. Selected to the NWL all-star team where he retired both batters he faced, Smiley helped lead the Bucks to the Great Plains East first-half championship, securing Waterloo’s first post-season berth in six years. By season’s end he was named the Bucks “Reliever of the Year”, appearing in a team-leading 24 regular season games. His ERA for the summer, including the All Star and playoff appearances was a stingy 1.92 in 51 2/3 innings. He led Waterloo in appearances, innings and strikeouts and tied for the team lead in both wins and saves. In the playoff game in which the eventual Great Plains champion Eau Claire Express ended the Bucks season, he matched his season high with four innings. His last pitch of the summer season resulted in a comebacker for a double play to end the scoreless outing.

After the performance in the Northwoods League, the Minnesota Twins invited Smiley to fill out the MLB Prospect Link questionnaire, and the team's draft questionnaire.

Novel coronavirus ends the 2020 season[edit]

Columbia started 2020 with series at Fresno State University and the University of Nebraska. During the two weekends, Smiley pitched in a team-leading three games. In his third game on March 7, his outing concluded after a 1-2-3 inning in the Cornhuskers’ final at bat of the game.

Next on the schedule were games at East Carolina University which ranked 14th in the NCAA preseason poll and Duke University which finished the season ranked 10th nationally. Two days before the Columbia team was scheduled to leave for the trip, the rest of the season was canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA soon provided eligibility relief for all spring sports athletes affected by the virus. Citing their long-standing tradition that athletics is for undergraduates, the Ivy League did not honor the NCAA’s recommendations.

Smiley completed an engineering degree a month later and faced a difficult decision: earn his master’s from Columbia in 2021, or enroll in a two-year degree program at another school to pitch one additional season. Smiley elected to return to New York, effectively ending his collegiate playing career. His overall collegiate record was 10-3 with 4 saves.

Professional career[edit]

In February 2021, Smiley agreed to terms to pitch in the Czech Republic's Extraliga. The top professional circuit in the country, the Extraliga has produced more than a dozen players who inked contracts in the USA's minor and major leagues. Smiley signed with Jablonec Blesk, a team making their Extraliga debut.

Blesk opened the season with four straight losses. On April 17 Smiley earned the first Extraliga win in franchise history with a 130-pitch complete game effort against the Třebíč Nuclears. A month later on he struck out four Olympia Blansko batters in two innings to earn Jablonec’s first save.

In the virus-shortened season, Blesk won just 8 of 27 Extraliga games. Smiley earned a win or save in six of the eight victories. For the year, he led the team in appearances, wins, saves, earned run average, complete games, and strikeouts. He was also second among all Extraliga pitcher in saves.

As a batter, Smiley had three hitless plate appearances in the team’s first 14 games. Against Hrosi Brno he was inserted into the lineup as the designated hitter. He responded with a 4-for-5 effort with one walk. Smiley also pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win. For the weekend Smiley went 8-for-12 with a double and two walks. He was also hit by two pitches. For his efforts Smiley was one of two Blesk nominations for Extraliga Player of the Week.

After the hitting performance against Hrosi Smiley became a permanent fixture in the Blesk lineup. Among Jablonec players with more than 30 at bats, Smiley led the team with a .429 on-base percentage. He ranked second in batting average, third in slugging and fourth in OPS. It was the 24-year old’s first regular season as a hitter since high school.

Because Jablonec finished in the bottom half of the league standings, their season concluded in relegation play.

Prague Baseball Week[edit]

The Czech Republic plays host to Prague Baseball Week, a tournament featuring national teams from countries across Europe. Smiley was invited to play for the International Stars team.

The Spanish team went undefeated in the event, outscoring opponents 39-9 in the tournament’s 40th year. Spain boasted four of the top six batters in terms of OPS. That included tournament MVP Edison Valerio, perennial standout Yancarlo Franco, and two former USA minor leaguers Lesther Galvan and Blake Ochoa.

In his only pitching appearance in the tournament, Smiley earned a no-decision against the powerful Spaniards.

At bat he was spectacular. Smiley posted a .500 on-base percentage with a home run, four runs scored, and two runs batted in. His 1.214 OPS was bested only by the Spanish quartet, International Stars teammate Ryan Johnson who was named the tournament’s outstanding hitter, and Czech Republic’s Adam Prudil.

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