The traditionalist in this blogger believes Bud Smith should command considerable attention when the Golden League starts its third season Thursday, but the realist knows the spotlight will fall on 5-foot-10 Tamara Ivie, a longtime star in women's baseball circles.
Smith, now 27 and still trying to fully regain the stature earned as a dazzlingly promising southpaw for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, probably would have opened the season for Arizona's Triple-A Tucson farm club had it not been for a leg injury during spring training. The Diamondbacks set him free, and the Long Beach (CA) Armada signed him for a second time.
What made Smith such a prized hurler for the Cardinals was his major league debut in 2001 which included a 4-0, no-hit gem at San Diego September 3. Smith allowed only four runners (walks) in throwing 134 pitches. As a fourth round draftee in '98, the Torrance, CA native drew attention throughout his early career, but the 6-3 rookie record plus five innings of one-run baseball in a National League Division Series victory over Arizona lifted the hype even more.
He has won only one additional major league game (2002) and eight in the minors while battling shoulder woes, including surgery for a torn labrum. He won only twice at Long Beach last summer although posting a 2.70 ERA in nine starts and one relief appearance.
Meanwhile, Ms. Ivie has emerged as a probable Long Beach teammate, which would make her the first woman to play professional baseball since pitcher Ila Borders brought attention--and some success--to the Northern League and the Golden's predecessor, the Western League.
"Tamara has the ability to play at this level or I wouldn't have her out here," Armada manager and former major leaguer Darrell Evans said when camp opened last week.
Indeed, she has been a standout among women. She hit .477 for the United States women's team that won the World Championships last summer. She played for four seasons with the traveling women's team known as the Silver Bullets, and that followed an all-America college softball career at Cal State Northridge. She also has played softball professionally, and is the current head coach at Santa Monica College.
The six-team GBL has openers Thursday at Yuma, AZ; Reno, NV, where the Silver Sox begin defense of their league title; and in the league's newest city, St. George, UT.
We wish success to Smith, Ivie and everyone else.
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