SAN FRANCISCO – After winning the 2018 Willie Mac Award following his recovery from 2017 Tommy John surgery, Will Smith recalled the support he received from other Giants players, trainers and coaches. On the day he won the award, he also received support from his two-year-old niece, Laney May Bass.
Smith sat behind home plate as she inched closer to him before throwing a ball in the dirt and giving Smith a hug. He joked after the game that he might need to work on improving her arm strength.
“That was awesome,” Smith said. “She threw it a little low though. We’re going to have to get that arm strength up this offseason.”
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The 29-year-old reliever said he was “just happy” to be recognized by his niece. He said she often mixes him up with another National League pitcher of a much less common surname.
“She used to be afraid of me because I’m not around as much, but every time I see her she gets a little older and she’s starting to recognize me more,” Smith said. “She thinks I’m (Mike) Foltynewicz from the Braves, so we’re still working on that one. But it was just nice for her to not be afraid of me.”
Outside of that moment, Smith said he was having trouble fully processing his win of the Willie Mac Award. He only found out on Wednesday from Nick Hundley, last year’s winner, that he’d be receiving the award. He is, however, as aware of the meaning of the award as just about any winner.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet, but it’s incredible,” Smith said. “I mean you saw all the people out there today, all the past winners that weren’t here, but just to be in the same breath as Willie McCovey, win that award, it means a lot just from the kind of guy he is and the past winners, with it being HP and Javi and Cainer and all those guys, it’s really cool.”
While his comeback was a series of many small moments tied together, there was one moment in particular that Smith recalled. It was the day he found out he knew he’d need the surgery. He said he was sitting in Dave Groeschner’s office, the Giants’ director of athletic training, “feeling sorry” for himself.
“Buster came up to me and he was like, ‘Your responsibility to the team now is to get better.’ And I took it serious, so that was a big moment right there, was the day I found out, when Buster told me that,” Smith said.
What helped Smith, he said, was being able to complete most of his rehab here in San Francisco. He dreaded the thought of spending most of his days away from his teammates in Arizona.
“I couldn’t have gone to Arizona and not been around the guys,” Smith said. “I love what I do, I love coming in here every day, I love playing with these guys every day, so to think of being Arizona… when I found I needed Tommy John, one of the first things I asked Groesch is, ‘Can I rehab here, please?’ And they were fortunate enough to let me do that here and there. For the most part, they let me be around the guys and that helped a ton.”
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