Download my interview with 2006 Cape Cod Baseball League MVP Justin Smoak, a sophomore first baseman this season with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.Smoak played this past summer on the Cape where he earned All-Star honors. Baseball America rated Smoak the No. 1 top prospect on the Cape, where he led the league in home runs (11) and collected 27 RBI. He was 10th in the league in batting with a .286 average.
In his first NCAA season in South Carolina he started all 66 games at first base. He batted .303 with 17 homers and 63 RBI. Baseball America has ranked South Carolina #6 in the nation in the pre-season.
Smoak was elected in the 16th round of 2005 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics.
In this CodBall Conversation, Smoak talks about his time on the Cape last season, his plans for this spring and the summer ahead. He is currently slated to return to Cotuit in the summer, but points out in his interview that Team USA could have other plans for him.
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CodBall: Justin, last time I saw you it was dark. Real dark. The lights literally went out this summer in Wareham during the division championship, leading to a 30 minute delay while the Gatemen grounds crew tried to get the hamsters running again in their little cages. Do you recall that game?
Smoak: Yea, I do. It was my second playoff game. They had beaten us at our place and we were at their place. Sounds kind of weird you’re in the middle of the game and the lights go out. But it actually happened.
CodBall: We were sitting near you there on the first base line. It kind of surprised me. The guy pitching that night had some good stuff.
Smoak: It was a great series against them. We had great games the whole summer. It was an unbelievable summer and it was fun.
CodBall: I spoke last week with Seattle Mariner’s closer JJ Putz. He told me his decision several years ago to play on the Cape was one of his best.
Smoak: It was awesome. It was unbelievable to play in that prestigious league. It was one of the best things I’ve done baseball-wise. One of the best experiences I’ve ever head. I had a great host family. I really think it improved my game a lot.
CodBall: Did you ever look at the Cotuit alumni – names like Jeff Kent, Chase Utley, Mark Belhorn, Tim Salmon?
Smoak: Yes, I did. I actually did. It’s kind of weird to know those guys played on the same fields. They are going through the same process that you’re basically going through right now. It was nice to be in that atmosphere.
CodBall: Will we see you on the Cape again this summer?
Smoak: Yes. I’m coming back to Cotuit. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet – if I will get invited to the USA Team or not. I couldn’t tell you. I’ve already signed my contract with Cotuit. Hopefully I will be back there this summer.
CodBall: How do you feel about this new 8/15 rule – the August 15th professional signing deadline?
Smoak: I think it’s a good thing. I think wherever you get drafted you should sign. Some guys want more money but wherever you’re drafted you should sign. I mean if you want to sign you sign and if you don’t you don’t. I try to follow that rule.
CodBall: Where would you like to play?
Smoak: Growing up I was a Braves fan but after being on the Cape I got to be a Red Sox fan a little bit. It wouldn’t matter to me.
CodBall: Tell us about the upcoming season there in South Carolina
Smoak: Our first game is against UNC Wilmington and then Oklahoma.
CodBall: Tell us about your teammates and the Gamecocks. Are you ready for the season?
Smoak: We’re looking forward to it. We worked hard all fall and will continue through the spring. Definitely looking forward to the season. We’ll get out there and hopefully good things will happen for us.
CodBall: A recent report in Baseball America’s 2007 College Preview has a report entitled, “Smoak, Wieters seek College World Series reunion.” Georgia Tech’s Matt Wieters is your childhood buddy and is quoted saying that he will either walk you or pitch around you if he faces you this season.
Smoak: We were high school buddies. We’ve known each other since we were 8-9 years old. That’s funny to me. We’ve been good friends for awhile. Had a chance to play against him on the Cape this past year. It was getting to play against each others. He’s a great guy.
CodBall: What goals do you have this season?
Smoak: My main goal is to get back out to Omaha. We want to win the championship. We’ve been working all fall and all spring for it.
CodBall: Going back to the Cape for a minute, what field did you like playing on the best.
Smoak: Chatham. A lot of fans. Great field to play on.
CodBall: What field did you not enjoy as much?
Smoak: Probably Wareham. That gravel for an infield, that was different. The first time we drove up into Wareham I thought there was a tarp on the field. There really wasn’t. It was gravel.
CodBall: What was your highlight?
Smoak: Basically the whole summer was a highlight for me. It was a great experience for me. It was an honor just to get invited to play up there.
CodBall: What advice do you have for the new incoming freshman at South Carolina, Lonnie Chisenhall? Lonnie is ranked as the #1 incoming freshman?
Smoak: He’s a great hitter and he can play a little bit. He’s coming to Cotuit this summer. He’s a great young player. He’ll mature a little bit this season.