Warren’s Smith to play baseball at Rio Grande

VINCENT – Warren catcher Gunnar Smith has given the Warriors stability behind the plate the past two seasons. He hopes to do the same for the University of Rio Grande over the next four years, where he has decided to play collegiately.

Smith signed to play for the Red Storm Tuesday in the Warren High School gymnasium in front of family and friends. “When I visited the campus, I liked the setup,” Smith said. “I liked the layout of it. I just felt like that’s where I needed to be and I felt like that’s where I was gonna succeed if I wanted to play college baseball.”

What Rio Grande head coach Brad Warnimont is receiving in Smith is a player with multiple tools. Smith brings a powerful bat to the plate but has also shown the ability to slap the ball to the opposite field. Defensively, Smith can shut down opposing teams’ base-running game with a rifle arm. He also works well with pitchers. Smith’s junior season, Warren’s top three starting pitchers all had earned run averages under 3.5 en route to the team winning a Division II district championship.

Smith moved up to the varsity squad during his sophomore season and was put in the lineup as the designated hitter. That’s because Warren had a standout player in Landon Kern who locked up the backstop. Kern served as a mentor to Smith, who soaked up as much knowledge about the position as he could gain.

“I learned a lot,” Smith said. “I just spent the whole year there and the whole year in legion ball just watching (Kern). A couple times I had him tell me what pitches he (called) and why. He taught me a lot. I can’t be thankful enough.”

Smith talked about the responsibility that comes with being a catcher, saying “you’re a leader out there. You’re like the quarterback. You’re calling the pitches. You’ve got to know what your pitcher wants or if your pitcher’s not feeling a certain pitch that day. You just have to run the team.”

Defensively, Smith recorded 21 putouts and caught eight runners trying to steal. He helped Warren pitchers accumulate a team ERA of 4.07.

Smith can also handle the bat. Last year, he batted .356 with 21 runs batted in. This year, in six less games, he posted a .333 average with 12 RBI en route to being named first team All-SEOAL and second team all-district.

Smith said Steve Swisher, father of MLB star Nick Swisher, worked with him on hitting throughout the years and helped him improve immensely.

“I pride myself on everything I do,” Smith said. “I work really hard on hitting.”

A member of the Todd Engle-coached Beverly/Lowell Post 385/750 legion club the past two seasons, Smith gained valuable experience. Last year, he was the team’s starting catcher and batted in the middle of the order. He is planning to play for Engle again this summer.

“Legion ball helped me a lot,” Smith said. “Todd Engle, he knows what he’s talking about. He played collegiate ball. As far as college plans, Smith is leaning towards majoring in sports marketing. He believes his game will translate well to the college level. “I’m willing to learn any position,” Smith said. “Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play.”

“I just want to work hard and be a better player. But most of all, get my degree and work hard in school.”