Let’s play word association. Ready?
South Africa and sports.
Easy. Rugby. Maybe soccer, because the World Cup was played there in 2010. Even cricket will do.
This summer, Shelter Island Bucks fans will connect the dots between the country at the southern tip of Africa and America’s national past time in the person of the new head coach of the Bucks, Darryn Gary Smith.
Coach Smith, 43, of Cape Town, will take over a squad that missed the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL) playoffs last year, finishing in fifth place in the seven- team league.
The teams are made up of college players who live in the communities they represent.
Bucks General Manager Frank Emmett said the hiring of a South African coach to lead the Bucks during the 2018 campaign is part of a larger trend in the sport.
Major League Baseball, which gives grants to the HCBL, has an aggressive campaign to promote the sport internationally, with regional offices in Europe, Asia and Latin America. One example of baseball’s expanding horizons is a two-game Yankees-Red Sox series ticketed for London in June 2019.
And while we’re making connections, Coach Smith is the international scout for the Sox in Africa. Previous to that post, he scouted for the Phillies, based in his home country.
Speaking to the Reporter recently, Coach Smith said he“assisted the Pirates in signing Vince Dyezel out of South Africa, who is active in the minor leagues. We have a number of players we’re following at present and will hopefully sign a couple of guys next year.”
Coach Smith, who pitched for South Africa in the 2000 summer Olympics and has been the pitching coach for his country’s national team, is no stranger to the United States. He played college ball at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa, the state where the ultimate baseball movie,“Field of Dreams” is set.
Asked how a South African kid became a baseball player and coach, Coach Smith said he caught baseball fever at age six. “My family went down to watch my cousins play at a field next to the shopping mall in our home town,” he said. “From the first, I knew I had an aptitude for the game and was instantly hooked. At school we played a number of ball games, including soccer, but baseball has always been my passion.”
In the highly competitive HCBL this summer, Coach Smith will bring some new ideas to the Shelter Island franchise by breaking down games into thirds. The first three innings he will coach his offense to look for big innings, to get off fast and put pressure on the opponents.
“The middle third we’ll change play if necessary depending on the situation, and the last three innings look as one run being worth two, depending again on the situation,” he said.
He’ll teach “situational hitting” and coach his pitchers to “pound the zone and change speeds. That, along with solid defense — making the routine plays every time — wins ball games.”
The married father of three said he’s never been to Shelter Island but is looking forward to it. In his stint living and working on the Island this summer he’ll have at least one familiar face around from the beginning.
His son Tyler, known as TJ, will be on the Bucks roster. The Grand View University (Iowa) sophomore, is a shortstop who his father has “coached at the local club level, regional level and national level — pretty much since he first put on a glove,” Coach Smith said.
As for molding a team out of young athletes from all around the country who will be assembling on the Island in early June, Coach Smith said he believes “you should control the ‘controllables’ and be able to adapt to what you have to work with. A team is made up of different types of players so we need to try to fit a hitter into a lineup where he can be most effective and productive.”
Coach Smith also made a promise to Buck fans. No matter the score, his team will never fail to hustle.
Host a Buck this summer: Families will receive free baseball camp for kids
With the Shelter Island Bucks season fast approaching, the team still lacks enough housing for the summer of 2018.
Host families provide a player with a room, bed, a place to launder their uniforms and room in the refrigerator for some food. The hosts are not required to provide meals, although many hosts do. With several players arriving with their own vehicles, there’s no need for host families to provide transportation.
The players are well supervised and know that any misbehavior can result in being dropped from the team.
The Bucks give back to the community in various ways, including free games, baseball clinics for Island youth and major improvements to Fiske Field that benefit the Shelter Island School District.
In addition, this year host families will get a special bonus.
The Hamptons Baseball Camp is offering a free week for all children of host families, a value of almost $1,000.
The camp runs Monday though Friday — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers coaching on baseball skills in a safe environment for players from age four to 13.
Contact Bucks General Manager Frank Emmett for information on hosting and the baseball camp at (631) 487-7997, or at [email protected]
The players arrive on the Island in early June and are here until the end of July. They play baseball six days a week and are encouraged to work part time jobs and must participate in the community.