From the time he was old enough to pitch down at Twi Field in Danvers American Little League, Shane Smith hoped he could do it for a living.
Just about 13 years later, he's living that dream.
Smith signed a rookie contract with the Milwaukee Brewers last month, just a few days after the conclusion of this year's Major League Baseball draft. The 21-year-old righthanded pitcher gave up his last three years of eligibility at Wake Forest to turn pro with the Brewers, who made an offer that was too good to turn down.
Getting the call from Milwaukee was a surreal moment for Smith, who was driving back down to college with his parents, Jeff and Mary, when he heard the news.
"Being able to bask in that moment and share it with them meant so much," Smith said. "Just thinking about how much we all put into my baseball career over the years, I think this becoming a reality felt amazing for me and lifted a lot of pressure off my parents' shoulders."
Leaving college eligibility on the table wasn't an easy decision for Smith, who never got to dominate the way he would've liked in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. He had his freshman season derailed by an injury and then earned the Deacons' closer role for 2020 only to see the season halted due to COVID-19.
"I just couldn't be happier for Shane," said Wake head coach Tom Walter. "The consummate teammate and clubhouse leader, Shane brings energy, commitment and professionalism to the ballpark every single day. The Brewers organization is among the best in pitching development. Shane will thrive in their environment."
Smith took over a spot in the starting rotation for the 2021 season, making two starts with five strikeouts each, before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
"Wake Forest was amazing for me," said Smith, who loved playing for Walter, the man who coached his dad in college at George Washington. "Not many guys will have the experience I did, two surgeries and COVID. Outside of that it was the best experience of my life and I made friends I'll have forever. Coach was great, he said we'd love to have you back for another year but this is probably the best plan of action for your career."
Despite the injury, Smith's size, frame and projected ability made it possible he'd be drafted in the late rounds. That didn't happen and Smith's agent fielded calls from various organizations that weekend; the Brewers had the most serious interest and the match was perfect.
"I was on my way back to school to do rehab for my arm there when they called," Smith remembers. "I think college had run its course for me, it was time to step up to the next level. After 2022 I would've been going for my Master's degree and than I would've been aged out of the draft anyway. Plus it felt pretty wise to let a pro team kind of get their hands on you rehab wise as you're battling back."
Now at the Brewers facilities in Arizona, Smith does rehab and physical therapy daily with Milwaukee's trainers and medical folks. Tommy John surgery has become so commonplace around baseball that there are several pitchers working their way back in various stages of their rehab, which helps him see his progress and set goals.
"There are probably eight or nine of us total," said Smith. "At the beginning needing surgery was really hard. I think once the operation was done it was like, 'I'm over that hump' and I could focus on the physical therapy. Once therapy and rehab started, I've had a great mindset. Attacking those goals gets me up excited in the morning."
Hoping to throw in October, Smith is conscious of not over-taxing himself to cause any setbacks. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he believes he has the stuff to develop into a dependable professional starting pitcher.
"When I'm at my best I'm locating my fastball and if I can throw inside and make a hitter feel uncomfortable I know I'm better off," he explained. "If I'm inside on a righty that opens up a lot of spots for the curveball, or opens up that changeup running away from a lefty."
A graduate of the Governor's Academy where he excelled in baseball and football, Smith was rated among the top 300 prospects in the country at age 18. He threw in the Area Code Games and had a half-dozen high level Division 1 offers when he picked Wake Forest.
"I think I can surprise people because I haven't put a full year together, haven't had to build a repertoire of mixing pitches. My goal is to be a starter, always," he said. "I'm built for it and I think the role fits my stuff in that I feel like I hit my peak in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings."
Being a pro baseball player is a dream come true for Smith, who's attacking the rehab process as he rebuilds his arm's strength and flexibility. Still, he can't wait until he's ready to play pro baseball.
"Its one day at a time for now," Smith said. "I look at the Brewers as one of the leading organizations for building depth with pitchers. They have so many home grown guys, it's really encouraging to be a part of the organization. I'm thrilled."