Seth Smith Goes From Eli Manning's Understudy To Brad Hawpe's Backup

By  | 

It seems Seth Smith has been watching and waiting his whole life.

The 25-year-old rookie who helped fuel the Colorado Rockies' remarkable run to the World Series with his clutch bat off the bench is among four outfielders competing for two backup jobs with the NL champions.

Being an understudy is nothing new to Smith, who spent his college career as Eli Manning's backup at Ole Miss. So, he knows all about biding his time and picking up tips from the stars.

''Backing up Eli definitely helps me with patience,'' Smith said. ''But at the same time, instead of worrying about when it is going to be my time, you kind of worry about what you can learn from the guy who's doing it right now.''

Nowadays, his teacher is right fielder Brad Hawpe, although Smith watches others, such as Todd Helton and Matt Holliday, with a keen eye, too.

''Just all these guys that have been there where I want to be, it's important for a young guy to look at them, see how they carry themselves, see how they take care of their business and go about their daily routines,'' Smith said.

Smith never did displace Manning at Ole Miss, where he didn't take a snap in three seasons. But he went to Oxford to play baseball anyway, and on the diamond he was the star, not the stand-in.

The Rockies drafted him in the second round in 2004, and after a quick rise through the ranks, which included 17 homers and 82 RBIs at Triple-A Colorado Springs last year, Smith made his major league debut last September on the night the Rockies began their 21-1 run-up to the World Series.

He produced key pinch hits against Philadelphia and Arizona after earning a spot on the playoff roster by going 5-for-8 in his September call-up.

When the season ended, he reclined in disbelief at his .571 batting average against big league pitching.

''That's the first time you can sit back and enjoy what just happened,'' Smith said. ''When it's happening, you're worried about winning baseball games and taking care of business. But then you get into the offseason and you reflect on the emotions and the ups and downs and the victories and defeats that you've just gone through. Hopefully I'll feed off my experiences from last September and October.''

Smith has his work cut out for him as he tries to beat out last year's incumbent backup outfielders Cory Sullivan and Ryan Spilborghs, along with free agent Scott Podsednik.

Sullivan is the team's top defensive outfielder and hit .286 in 72 games last season. Spilborghs often filled in for an injured Willy Taveras in center field and hit .299 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs in 97 games.

Podsednik said he's healthy again after two injury-riddled seasons, and if so, he could provide the Rockies with some speed on the basepaths following the departure of Kaz Matsui to Houston and also insurance should Taveras' leg injuries dog him again this season.

''Obviously, you've got to like some of the things some of the guys we've had for a while,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''Sullivan acclimated to that role so well last year, a role he'd struggled in previously. Spilborghs was like your sixth man in basketball. But also you're talking about another left-handed bat. With Podsednik, you got a guy who's a legitimate leadoff hitter with speed. Maybe we can rekindle him.''

Hurdle bristled, however, when it was suggested Smith had no shot behind those three.

''You cannot overlook what he was able to bring to the table late in the season,'' Hurdle said. ''He has that going for him.''

Smith also will get look in center field in mid-March, which ''would make him a much more attractive fit,'' Hurdle said

''From what I hear anyway, that's what you look for in a fourth or fifth outfielder is a guy who can play any where in a pinch,'' said Smith, who didn't have another position as an option when he was Manning's backup.

After Smith's two-run bloop double ignited a six-run rally in the Rockies' NL pennant clincher last fall, Manning razzed the rookie, pondering ''if that was technically a Texas Leaguer.''

Smith has yet to call Manning to congratulate the Super Bowl MVP for denying the New England Patriots a perfect season.

''I'm going to let things settle down a little bit and let things get back to normal,'' Smith said.