By Ray Hamill — Former McKinleyville standout Jacob Smith has found a new home for himself halfway across the country, and from an athletic standpoint he’s having twice the fun he had anticipated.
Smith, who graduated from McKinleyville High last year, was recruited to play baseball at Carleton College in Minnesota, joining another former Big 5 player — Eureka’s Brendon Fischel — on the team.
But before he even got to put on a baseball glove at the collegiate level, he was recruited to wear different gloves at Carleton, and spent his fall playing back-up goalie on the school’s soccer team.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Smith, who is now busy preparing for the upcoming baseball season. “The coach got my number and texted me asking if I’d be interested in playing soccer, and I decided to give it a shot and see if I liked it. And I’m glad he reached out.”
Smith played four years varsity soccer at McKinleyville, and enjoyed plenty of early success with his new team, which won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship on a shootout and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division-III playoffs.
He didn’t see much action, playing behind a solid starter, but says he intends to continue with the program for four years at Carleton and wants to compete for a starting spot.
“I grew a ton,” he said of his soccer game. “College soccer, and especially championship level soccer, is a huge step up from the H-DNL. I had to adjust to the speed and pace of the game.”
Since the end of the soccer season, the former Panther has been busy preparing for baseball while continuing to adjust to life in college and in Minnesota.
“It’s frigid,” he said with a laugh. “This polar vortex has been something else, but we have a really nice indoor facility up here.
“We have live at-bats, full infield and outfield drills, so we’ve been able to simulate pretty much everything except for the games.”
The new season begins in early March, and Smith, who is one of 15 freshmen on a roster of 29, expects to start at catcher.
“We have a massive freshmen class this year,” he said. “The coach’s goal is to get some new blood in here and turn things around.”
Last season the Knights struggled to a 10-23 record.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys, but a lot of guys ready to come out and compete,” Smith said. “And I like what I see so far.”
Fischel makes his mark
Smith joins 2015 Eureka High graduate Brendon Fischel on the team.
The former Logger is in his fourth year with the program and one of just three seniors on the roster.
Last season Fischel was one of the team’s top offensive threats, hitting .315 at the plate, while starting 24 games.
Fischel has played substantially since joining the Knights out of high school.
Carleton is a small private liberal arts school located in Northfield, with a little over 2,000 students.
And for Smith, the adjustment has been fun, albeit a challenge.
“Playing two sports and balancing academics has been tough,” he said. “But the place is full of amazing people. I just feel so lucky to be surrounded by all these great people.”
As for his expectations on the baseball fields this spring.
“We’re hoping to turn the program around a little bit,” he said. “And hopefully win some games.”
Smith will be back in Humboldt County this summer, playing a second season with the Humboldt B52s.