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Penn-Trafford's Smith embraces closer role at Canisius

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Penn-Trafford grad Tyler Smith has excelled in a closer role at Canisius.
Canisius athletics
Penn-Trafford grad Tyler Smith has excelled in a closer role at Canisius.

When Tyler Smith takes the mound for Canisius, the Golden Griffins believe victory is imminent.

That's fine with Smith, who excelled as the team's closer as a junior this season. He posted a 3-0 record and notched 11 saves for the Golden Griffins, who finished 35-22.

The Penn-Trafford product spent his first two years at Canisius as a relief pitcher but moved into the closer role this spring.

“I always kind of liked the position. Even as a young kid watching them come in — guys like Mariano Rivera — everyone knows this guy is going to come in and shut it down,” Smith said. “It's a cool experience to be able to be one of those guys now.”

In addition to figuring into more than a third of the team's victories, Smith struck out 43 batters in 29 23 innings pitched. He allowed one earned run all season and finished with a 0.30 ERA. Opposing batters hit .136 against Smith — the lowest mark on the Golden Griffins' pitching staff.

“I am extremely happy with my year. It was definitely an improvement from my sophomore year,” he said.

Taking on the closer's role meant a different mindset for Smith.

“I was always a starting pitcher in high school. It was an interesting change going from starting a game to going to the bullpen, just from the routine and preparation that goes into it and not really having an idea when you're going to throw,” he said. “I've had very good guys above me who really taught me how to throw with minimal warm-up, in some cases, and all the little intricacies that go along with being a relief pitcher.

“The mental aspect of closing is tough. It's definitely nerve wracking. You could have anything from a walkoff hit off of you to striking everyone out and being a hero. Baseball is a game of failure, and that'll always be in the back of your mind, no matter what role you're in. I love it. I couldn't ask for a better role. I really embrace the pressure. Selfishly, I kind of like the all-eyes-on-me kind of thing that goes along with closing.”

Smith believes he's become smarter on the mound, too.

“As a closer, I have the ability to throw whatever pitch I want whenever I want. I don't really have to worry about a guy coming back up to the plate having already seen my curveball and slider. It definitely makes life easier,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I didn't really know the difference between my curveball and slider. Now, I do. Fastball command has been my big thing ever since high school. I've always been blessed with the ability to throw hard. Throwing it where I wanted it was a struggle. It's something I am working on to this day, but I've certainly gotten better.”

This summer, Smith is playing for the Valley Blue Sox in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

“I played for them last year, too. I am blessed. I get to go everywhere for summer baseball and meet new families willing to take us in. I couldn't ask for a better deal,” he said. “Seeing the transition from my freshman year to finishing up my junior year, I like the pitcher I have become and am becoming. There's a lot of work left to be done, though.”

He's already looking forward to getting back on campus in the fall for his senior year.

“I am very excited about it,” he said, “I get to play with the best guys I've ever met in my life. To close out my collegiate baseball career playing with my best friends, there's no better feeling.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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