Inside the Game: Getting To Know League Commissioner Josh Smith

Written by Kyle Hetrick  |  Contributing Columnist  |  04.04.2013

There are only a few people that have remained in the pursuit of community morale boosters. Josh Smith is one of those people. What started out as a backyard game with his friends has turned into a 10 year old idea that, in recent years, has gained some success. The idea formed back in 2002 when Josh experienced a life-changing event. While practicing picking off runners trying to steal second base (he often played short stop at the time) he was struck in the face by a baseball his brother threw from behind the plate. "I lost it in the sun", he said. "I did all the things you were supposed to do, move around, use your hat and glove to create a window to find the ball." But Smith could not locate the ball that was menacingly hiding from him in the big blue partly cloudy sky. The forecast for that day: cloudy with a chance of getting hit in the face. Instead the ball found him by sneaking through the window he had created to look for the ball yet guard his face. His face was busted at the lip. "I was lucky not to lose any teeth. All I could think of was why my brother would throw the ball sky high like that. I wanted to yell at him but all my energy was focused on not falling down because I was afraid that I would not be able to get back up." Smith lost about a pint of blood during the incident and experienced something he had not felt since he first started playing baseball... a fear of the ball.

Smith went on to play another year of baseball but could not shake the fear being hit again. "I've been hit before, playing infield you get bad hops all the time and get it in the leg or groin sometimes but getting hit in the face feels more personal somehow." He rode the bench most of the last year and his perception on his immediate future in the sport changed. "I knew I was never going to be playing varsity high school baseball or anything. I was never that good even before I got hit in the face. So I used my time on the bench to do a lot of thinking." What he ended up with was taking refuge in a simple game he played during all his youth and in the off-season to stay in practice for baseball. "Wiffleball was a game I always enjoyed growing up. I was always better at it than baseball and the big selling point at that time was getting hit in the face was no big deal." He began regularly getting friends and family together on the street they all used to play on as kids and the GarrettDrive Wiffleball League was born.

Armed with yellow sticks and sidewalk chalk the dozen or so of players created something that would last until 2011 and forever changed how Smith would spend his spare time. The league never developed a large following and never grew past four teams due to lack of interest in the Hurricane-Teays Valley area. In 2012, Smith visited a friend who runs a league in the Washington D.C. area, Potomac Wiffleball League, and was inspired to try to start another league despite the bitter taste left in his mouth with the failure of the first league. The results of his efforts (with much help from co-commissioner Greg Sowards) was the establishment of the Huntington Wiffle League. Five teams supported the inaugural season and pick-up games were played twice a week at St. Cloud Commons from early May through late July. The first season encouraged Smith and Sowards to get an early start in preparing for the 2013 season which has paid off with growing to six teams with larger rosters.

As a player, Smith has enjoyed a few successes on field. However, he proclaims that he has very little skill and views a game where he gets on base as a win. With that attitude in hand he just keeps on playing, learning, and focusing on keeping the game fun for himself and others around him. At bat he seems to be natural, armed with an understanding of the ball and its flight he gets from his hits and plays very well as a push along hitter. On the mound though his success is less obvious, his strength lies in the fact that he can't really control the ball on a consistent basis. That flaw sometimes works in his favor as his pitches are often unpredictable until he inevitably throws a batter off by landing a well-placed strike. I myself have fallen prey to this many times. As a fielder he goes for everything with gusto, a foul ball that looks nearly impossible to get to is somehow snagged for an unexpected out by Josh.

Off the field Josh is a manager at a "dollar store" and a substitute teacher. He enjoys his time by writing for various wiffle publications and learning more about the game. 

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