ORONO – Curt Smith knows what he wants – and aggressively pursues his goals.
That is obvious when the University of Maine senior stands in the batter’s box and tees off on opposing pitchers.
It is equally evident in Smith’s willingness to leave his native Curacao and his family behind to pursue a Division I scholarship and earn a college degree while living alone in the United States, thousands of miles from home.
“It turned out to be great,” Smith said, “like they say, four of the best years of my life. I learned a lot, grew up a lot and I got to play baseball and got my education, and that’s what I came for.”
This weekend, UMaine’s senior captain plays his final series at Mahaney Diamond, a field where he has developed into one of the most productive hitters in Black Bear history.
“He’s a feared hitter,” said UMaine coach Steve Trimper. “He has such a presence at the plate. His strong point is, when you throw a strike, he’ll whack the thing. He absolutely jumps on strikes.”
Smith goes into Friday’s 5 p.m. America East game against Hartford leading UMaine in nine offensive categories. He ranks first on the ballclub in batting average (.393), hits (55), home runs (11), runs scored (49), slugging percentage (.743), on-base percentage (.491), triples (3), walks (26) and fewest strikeouts among the Bears’ regulars (11).
The 5-foot-10, 208-pound first baseman and left fielder is second on the team in doubles (10) and RBIs (29) and stolen bases (10) this season while continuing to climb several UMaine career performance lists.
Smith holds the school record for triples in a game (tied, 2) and career (19). He ranks second in hits (284) behind Mark Sweeney (328), and is fifth in doubles (53) and sixth in RBIs (170).
He also boasts a .368 career batting average that puts him among the Black Bears’ all-time leaders. Smith has played in 200 of 203 games, all starts, in four seasons.
“He’s such a feared guy in the lineup that he makes your lineup go, and that’s been for the last few years,” Trimper said. “He’s one of the top two or three guys I’ve ever coached.”
Despite being surrounded by some outstanding hitters during his career, including former sluggers Joel Barrett and Ryan Quintal, Smith has been forced to adjust as opponents consistently pitch around him.
He doesn’t get many fastballs to hit and has had to learn to be more selective at the plate.
“I’m a pretty aggressive hitter,” Smith said. “I like to swing at the first pitch, but I don’t see first-pitch strikes any more, so I just wait for my pitch and sometimes it’s just a walk.”
Smith’s patience has helped him reach a career high in walks while keeping his strikeouts in check. He has fanned only 76 times in 772 career at-bats (once every 10.2 AB).
Smith arrived at UMaine in 2004 after two stints (2002, 2003) in the Senior League World Series in Bangor. He was being pursued by the Minnesota Twins and could have signed a pro contract out of high school.
His mother, Claudette Mourillon, wouldn’t hear of it.
“If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be right now, so I really appreciate everything she did for me,” Smith said. “I listened to her and I came to school.”
Smith, who speaks three other languages in addition to English, will finish the spring semester four credits shy of his degree in business (marketing).
“I told my mom I’ll finish and I will,” he vowed.
Smith has served as the emotional leader of a youthful team that has experienced its share of struggles this season.
“He’s a real joy to coach. He’s fun to be around,” Trimper said. “He was thrust into the role of being a captain and leading these guys and he’s done a tremendous job.”
Despite UMaine’s propensity for losing close games, Smith has tried to use his energy and enthusiasm to spur on his teammates while also keeping them grounded and focused.
“It has been really frustrating for me,” he said of the losing. “I try to keep my composure and I keep fighting.”
Smith also made a sacrifice this season by moving from the left side of the infield (third base, shortstop) and playing at first base and in left field.
“Curt is the ultimate team player,” Trimper said. “He said I don’t care where I play, I just want to help the team win.”
When the season ends, Smith hopes to get the opportunity to play pro ball. He has garnered the attention of scouts during his career at UMaine.
“If I’m a scout, I don’t see how I don’t draft the kid,” Trimper said. “He’s a pure hitter and he runs. He’s got skills.”
Smith’s short-term goal is to spearhead a late-season UMaine drive to the postseason.
“The guys know that we need to win in order to get into the playoffs,” Smith said. “I’m going to do whatever I can [to make that happen].”