Highly-touted Mets rookie Dominic Smith sits down for a Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby:
Q: How heartbreaking was your mother’s struggle with drugs and how did it shape you?
A: Both my parents were addicted to drugs for years. But it never really affected me because I wasn’t even born yet. It affected my older brother and my older sisters. My grandmother took them away from my mother, and it was like, “If you don’t get yourself together, I’m going to keep your kids.”
She kept them for quite some time, and she got pregnant with me, and she was about to abort me. She wasn’t ready to have another kid. She prayed and prayed and prayed, and asked God what He wanted her to do. And she said one day she heard Him speak back. He told her, “if you have this boy, he’s going to be special, everybody [will] know his name.”
And [God] told her, “If you have him and don’t abort him, I will relieve you from any addiction you have.” She said as soon as she had me, she had no will to be an addict. She didn’t do her drugs for, shoot, over 20 years … since I’ve been born. I’m 22 now, so 22 years sober.
Q: That’s tremendous.
A: It’s funny, she told me this story when I was 11. … I’m a little kid, I just want to go outside and play. She was just like, “Dom, you got to understand, God told me you were going to special. So whatever you do, if you want to be a lawyer, or whatever you do, keep faith and just know that God is going to make your name known and going to make sure your name is special.”
Q: And how about your father?
A: Same thing, he sobered up a little bit before I was born.
Q: What drives you?
A: Seeing my parents smile … knowing that I’m able to take care of them, knowing that all the sacrifices and hard work that they put into me is paying off. … Seeing them not have to worry, seeing them not have to stress. … Seeing my nephew who looks up to me, wants to be just like me when he grows up, and knowing that I can help him accomplish what he wants to do. I just want to be a good role model to him, I want to be a good role model for everybody in the inner city. I know it’s a ton of kids looking up to me right now. Because not too many people where I come from make it out, so I definitely want to be an inspiration to all those kids. It’s not just me playing a game wanting to do good, it’s bigger than that, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than what people really think, because I am an inspiration to a lot of inner city kids.
Q: How come you’re so mature for 22?
A: I had to grow up fast. I was taking care of my family when I was 17. You learn about bills, and buying your first house and cars and taxes. You just got to grow up whether you want to or not.
Q: A tweet from you once: “I want my name to ring bells and sell tickets.”
A: (Smile) I loved music, and when I hear a nice line, I tweet it out. That quote is a Nipsey Hussle quote. Yeah, you know? I want my name to ring bells and sell tickets. And hopefully I could play well enough to do that.
Q: Another tweet: People are funny, they don’t even know the things I’ve been through.
A: Yeah, I mean, people don’t know my life story. They don’t know the stuff I’ve been through. Everybody’s so quick to judge. They don’t know the type of person I am. They don’t know where I come from, my background, what I have to overcome to be in this position. … A lot of people just see me as Dominic Smith the baseball player, or felt like everything was spoon fed to me, or given to me on a silver platter. But I had to work for a lot of stuff, I had to overcome a lot of obstacles. … I grew up in the inner cities in L.A., and went through a lot, seen a lot, and for me to be here is a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment for sure.
Q: The biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
A: Coming from poverty, pretty much. My parents didn’t have a lot. It took a village to get me to this position. It was times where growing up, my cellphone bill wouldn’t be paid, or we didn’t even have enough money to eat, or whatever. It was tough, but it takes some good people around you to really help you to overcome that stuff. … My nephew’s dad got killed. I saw how hard it was on my sister and my family, my mom. It definitely helps you value life more. You don’t take it for granted as much.
Q: Athletes in other sports you admire.
A: Kobe [Bryant] … big Kobe fan. Just his mentality, the Mamba mentality.
Q: Do you have that Mamba mentality on the field?
A: Yeah. You have to. That just separates you from the pack sometimes — well all the time, actually.
Q: How does that manifest itself on the field?
A: I feel like it relaxes you. You get in your own zone. You block out all the fans, you block out the situation, all the pressure that should be looming around, just block all that stuff out, and you’re just back to being comfortable, confident and it helps you play extremely well and at a high level.
Q: You once were quoted as saying: “I never feel pressure.”
A: I feel like you just got to be confident in your abilities. I feel comfortable and confident in any situation. When I walk out there, I feel like I’m the best player on the field. You have to feel that way. Sometimes when you second-guess yourself, you add pressure to yourself, you make the situation really bigger than it really is and you tend to mess up a lot. So if you have that confidence, a little bit of that swagger, it’ll make everything a lot easier.
Q: Why is Amed Rosario going to be a big-time player?
A: Nothing fazes him. He could be 0-for-4 and still out there smiling, or he could be 4-for-4, and you can’t tell with him. He’s going to out-compete a lot of players. He’s going to compete with whoever’s on the mound. He’s going to make a ton of big-time plays in the big city. He works very hard, and he just loves the game. And when you love the game as much as he does, and as gifted and as skilled as he is, you’re going to have a bright future ahead of you.
Q: What enables you to be a good defensive player?
A: I think just being alert and ready at all times. As long as you’re locked into the game reading swings, knowing what pitch is coming, it’s going to help you get an extra jump on the ball. And then especially when you’re blessed with some good hands.
Q: Who calls you Big Diesel?
A: (Laugh) Yeah, that nickname was given to me by Kevin Plawecki.
Q: What did you notice about Tim Tebow up close and personal?
A: Great guy. He’ll outwork anybody. He’s there early morning in the gym, taking 500-1,000 swings a day. He’s out there doing early work with fly balls. He does care about baseball and stuff like that. And it shows. For him to do what he’s doing not having played baseball in 10 years, you can’t just wake up and do that.
Q: Who draws more of a crowd, you or him?
A: Definitely him. He’ll sell out any city, any state. Put him in a big-league game, it’ll be sold out.
Q: Who’s the on pitcher in baseball history you would want to face?
A: Maybe Randy Johnson. Either him or Nolan Ryan. Those two guys were as dominant as you could be in that era. I heard a lot of stories about them, so to just be up there and really see it, I feel like that would be a fun experience.
Q: You can pick the brain of any hitter in history.
A: It would have to be Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.
Q: Another tweet from you: “I like when money makes a difference but don’t make you different.”
A: Sometimes a lot of people change with money. I feel like no matter how much you make, you just should still be the same person, still be down-to-earth, humble, generous, nice, caring. That’s what got a lot of people here. You shouldn’t change who you are, shouldn’t look down on people because you’re held at a higher status. Status is whatever, fame is OK, money comes and goes. When you die, do you want people to say, “Oh man, Dominic Smith was a good baseball player, made a lot of money,” or do you want to say, “Man, that guy was a great dude?” And that’s what I want to leave behind when I’m gone.
Q: Best baseball moment.
A: Me and my teammate (Matt Oberste) he’s in Double-A right now, we were both in Double A last year together. We’re playing against the RiverCats, which is the Blue Jays’ Double A team, and we hit back-to-back homers in two consecutive ABs.
Q: What’s so good about that one?
A: Not too many places cook like fried catfish and grits and fried chicken with some waffles and stuff like that. It just reminded me of being at home with my family, and cooking on a Sunday, going in before church.
Q: Are you avoiding fried food completely now?
A: I can’t remember the last time I had any fried food, to be honest.
Q: What was the heaviest you ever were?
Q: And you felt like crap, right?
A: Oh yeah. Everything hurt, body hurt, knees hurt, everything hurt.
Q: Because you were eating all kinds of wrong stuff?
A: Yeah. In the minor leagues it’s really tough. You travel by bus, and you stop in the middle of the night, two in the morning, three in the morning, only thing open is McDonald’s, Burger King or something like that. Then in the mornings when you wake up at your hotel, a lot of places we travel don’t even have Uber, taxis, stuff like that. So you got to walk to get food, and you’re always only by fast food places. The spreads are not great. Clubbies down there, I don’t blame them, they have to make money too, so clubbies down there aren’t putting out the best things because they’re not getting paid the most, so they’re going to put out the easiest, cheapest thing out there, and a lot of times that’s the worst thing for you.
Q: What do you weigh now?
A: 244 maybe.
Q: You’ll be under 240 next season?
A: Yeah. Next year I’ll probably be around low 230s maybe, and then 225.
Q: Does the club want you to get down there?
A: No, it’s just something I want to do, something my family wants me to do more than anything. They’re used to me looking a certain way. They just want me to be healthier, more comfortable, and just look the part.
Q: Personal goals for the rest of the season.
A: Just help my team win games. If I can contribute, I’m happy.
Q: How was the Subway Series experience?
A: It was amazing. It was playoff atmosphere. It can definitely help younger guys like myself and Amed get used to how it would be if we were in the playoffs, if we were in a World Series, stuff like that, how crazy the fans are going from the first pitch to the last pitch.
Q: Aaron Judge?
A: He’s a freak. He’s a freak of nature. … I’m just glad I’m not a third baseman, so I don’t got to stand over there when he’s hitting.
Q: You’re known for your opposite-field power. Have you changed your approach at all?
A: Not really. I know I could hit a home run line-to-line. I try to just stick to what I’m comfortable with, my strength, they pitch me that way, I’ll go that way. But it’s a different game up here. It’s going to take some time to get used to, to get adjusted to. But once I get used to it and adjusted to it and the speed of it and stuff like that, I think I’ll be all right.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Ribeye steak with a baked potato and some asparagus.
Q: How do you like living in a Manhattan hotel?
A: It’s fun. I wake up every day and I look out of my window, I’m like, “Man, I’m really in New York, this is pretty crazy.”
Q: How do you get to the ballpark?
A: I Uber every day. It’s funny, I will just type in where I got to go, and then as soon as we get here, then the drivers realize like, “Ohmigosh … Do you play?”
Q: What do you like about New York City?
A: I love it. It’s a fast-paced life. It never sleeps. Bright lights, big expectations. Fans really care about their sports. They really love you if you play well. And they really recognize you, they notice you. It’s pretty cool. That’s the type of stuff I like.
Q: How do you feel about playing on the big stage under the bright lights?
A: I love it. I love it. I love that type of pressure. That makes or breaks you as an athlete. Could you perform in the big moments? And I want to be that guy who can deliver in a big moment, that guy that you see in the highlights, help your team win a game, hit the walk off home run, make the diving catch. I want to be that guy. I want to be a superstar in this league.