Class of 2013
When you’re growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Ardmore, Ala., playing pitch and catch with your father and brother in the front yard, you have no idea that you’ll grow up to be an All-SEC pitcher for Vanderbilt University in 1990. You have no idea that you’ll be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and get to pitch in Class A baseball against some hitters who will go on to the major leagues.
You don’t know, but you dream, because that’s what kids do when you’ve got a good live arm, some natural talent, a great work ethic, and a great big heart.
JoJo Smith grew up with all those things, and they’re exactly why he is being inducted into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame.
Smith’s journey to professional baseball began like most dreaming of one day playing in the big leagues — with a simple game of pitch and catch with family members and Saturday mornings on a little league field.
“Dad had a mound and plate in the front yard and I use to throw to my brother, Bruce. I believe I was 6 when I first starting throwing to him. I remember playing little league for John Barnes, a man who did a lot for the youth league in Ardmore. Those are memories I will never forget,” said Smith.
Later, Smith would move on to Ardmore High School where he was a two-sport star for the Tigers. As a basketball player, Smith would score 1,567 career points with a high game of 40 points against West Morgan. He was twice named All-County and All-Area in basketball.
Baseball would be the sport, however. Smith had scouts and coaches watching his powerful left arm mow down batter after batter.
During his final two seasons, Smith would register an 18-1 record as the Tigers ace pitcher. He was twice named All-County and was the county Most Valuable Player in 1988. He recorded a microscopic 0.82 ERA during his senior season and pitched a perfect game against Elkmont (struck out 11 of 15 batters he faced). An excellent student, Smith was also named to the ESPN Scholastic Sports America Honor Roll in 1988.
Former West Limestone and Ardmore High School baseball coach Lee Walker was a high school teammate of Smith. He says the tall left-hander was as good a pitcher as he has seen in Limestone County.
“In my opinion, Joe is as dominant a pitcher as there has been in the county schools during
the past 20 years. He changed the game when he pitched. Opposing teams knew their scoring opportunities would be limited. We knew that all we had to do was score two or three runs and the game was over with Joe on the mound. Joe was
just a great pitcher and a player who excelled at every level he played at,” said Walker.
Smith’s high school baseball coach, Steve Hargrove, says that even though his star pitcher was talented, he stayed humbled.
“JoJo was a great player but a greater person. He was a very humbled young man who came from a wonderful family. He had the talent but he worked at getting better every day. JoJo was a good leader on and off the field for a special group of players we had at Ardmore. JoJo has never forgot where he came from and is as down to earth a person as you would ever want to meet,” said Hargrove.
After his senior season in the Tigers baseball program, Smith would spurn scholarship offers from in-state schools and accept a scholarship from Vanderbilt University. Smith recorded a 4-3 record during his first year in the Commodores program. He would blossom during his sophomore year and finish the season with a 9-3 record, 2.19 ERA and six saves.
Highlights for Smith that year include being named All-SEC First team, two wins over NCAA national champion Georgia and a win over his childhood favorite school, Alabama. “The win over Alabama was special because the win put us in the SEC Tournament for the first time in 10 years and it was against the school I grew up pulling for as a kid,” said Smith.
Following his sophomore season at Vandy, Smith was selected for Team USA that competed around the world and received the Bronze Medal at the Goodwill Games in Los Angeles.
Little did Smith know at the time, but his association with the city of Angels was just beginning. Following his junior season at Vandy, Smith was selected by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the amateur baseball draft and was assigned to their extended Summer A team in Yakima, Wash. He was 7-3 with a 4.92 during his first season in professional baseball.
The following spring, Smith would attend spring training with the Dodgers at historic Vero Beach, Fla.
“I met many legendary Dodgers players including Sandy Koufax. Tommy Lasorda was there to greet us when we got off the bus. The time in Vero Beach was a great experience,” said Smith.
Smith would play his final season in professional baseball that year at Class A Bakersfield, Calif.
Smith says he has no regrets when looking back.
“The sport of baseball was very good to me,” said Smith. “It opened a lot of doors for me and I was able to play with some wonderful teammates at all levels. Baseball was a means of helping me earn a college degree from one of the more prestigious universities in the country. The sport allowed me to travel the world to places that I would have never visited otherwise.”
Smith says that a great many people contributed to his induction into the LCSHOF.
“I am flattered to be inducted into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame. I am being inducted into a Hall of Fame where so many former great players and coaches are. I have so many people to thank. My entire family, former coaches, former teammates and the folks in Ardmore who have supported me through the years all contributed to this honor,” said Smith.