Minor League Sports

At a young age, Cedar Rapids Kernels hitting coach Ryan Smith adjusts to pro baseball

'It was one of those things where you always had to play in order to coach. But things are starting to change.'

Kernels hitting coach Ryan Smith loads a ball into a batting machine as players practice prior to a game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Kernels hitting coach Ryan Smith loads a ball into a batting machine as players practice prior to a game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — How does a 25-year-old guy whose only prior coaching experience was an assistant at a junior college in Florida, whose playing experience was at that same junior college and a Division II school in Georgia go about landing a job as hitting coach for a full-season professional baseball team?

Ryan Smith nailed his interview with the Minnesota Twins. Obviously.

But it’s more than that.

“We had success, and I’m not taking any credit. We had a great staff at Central Florida,” said Smith, whose Cedar Rapids Kernels were beaten by Kane County, 5-1, Sunday afternoon at the oven known as Veterans Memorial Stadium. “It was all about learning, and I learned from those guys just to question everything. That’s a mindset that the Twins are really big on. Don’t believe what you see. Everything needs to be proven, and that’s kind of what we’re doing here.”

Smith’s father, Marty, was just inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. He has been a huge winner at College of Central Florida, where they use the same technology embraced by most Major League Baseball organizations.

You probably have heard of Trackman, Rapsodo, Edgertronic. They are systems that precisely measure just about everything that happens on a baseball diamond: pitching, defense, hitting, you name it.

Ryan Smith is well versed on those technologies and deeply believes in them.

“The way I describe it is we stopped guessing,” he said. “Everything in the past has been ‘Well, I think you’re swinging down. You’re doing this with your pitching mechanics.’ It was all just guesswork of what we’ve seen. Justin Willard is the pitching coach at Double-A (Pensacola), and he has the same (philosophy). Your eyes lie. That, to me, is really good. We have all this tech now, we can measure everything. So why guess when we have everything at our disposal? That’s the way the game is going.”

He’s around the same age as many of the guys he is tutoring, so Smith can relate to them that way. For instance, Kernels first baseman Gabe Snyder is just a year younger than him.

He’s obviously a very smart guy, one who decided to take a shot at pro ball.

“It was a new challenge,” he said. “It’s different, it’s a different world. And it is cool to see the stuff we were doing in college being embraced by professional teams, that they’re doing it now. It was always, obviously, a dream to coach in pro ball or play in pro ball. It was one of those things where you always had to play in order to coach. But things are starting to change.”

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Kane County scored four times in the ninth inning against relief pitcher Jose Martinez to win Sunday’s game. Dominic Fletcher, playing just his fourth game since signing with the parent Diamondbacks as a second-round draft pick earlier this month out of the University of Arkansas, hit a three-run home run for the big blow.

C.R. starting pitcher Andrew Cabezas was stellar in a tough no-decision, giving up just three hits and a run in eight innings. Kane County’s Eduardo Diaz hit the second pitch of the game from Cabezas for a homer.

Cedar Rapids tied things up in the seventh on a Trevor Casanova RBI double. The teams conclude their three-game series Monday at noon.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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