The loudest cheers for any player Thursday night at Memorial Stadium came for one trying to beat the Boise Hawks.
Starting in right field for the Tri-City Dust Devils was Mason Smith, a Rocky Mountain High graduate. Behind him, behind home plate, sat nearly 100 friends, family and other supporters for his first game beyond rookie ball.
“It was such a blessing, having it be Father’s Day weekend, too, it’s really amazing it all happened this way,” said Smith, who won the 5A state championship in 2012 at Memorial Stadium. “It meant a lot to me to open up in my hometown with all those familiar faces watching me.”
Batting eighth, Smith went 0-for-3 at the plate, flying out twice and hitting into a fielders’ choice. The 20-year-old, drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Padres, has struggled to get his pro career started. He hit .199 in the Arizona League last season and .209 the prior season.
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The Hawks won the game 3-1; the five-game homestand continues Friday night.
“A lot of ups and downs, it’s taken a lot of adjustment from high school,” Smith said. “There’s been a lot of failure, but also some success. The biggest challenge for me is learning to deal with that failure while trying to build on those good things.”
Though he didn’t get a hit in front of his hometown crowd, Smith said he “was doing really well” in extended spring training and hopes to carry it over into his move to Single-A.
“All I can control is how hard I work and my attitude,” Smith said.
BRONCOS TOSS OUT FIRST PITCHES
Among the half-dozen or so VIPs invited to throw out the first pitch were a pair of Boise State senior football players, cornerback Donte Deayon and defensive tackle Armand Nance.
Deayon had perhaps the better pitch, though Nance, who pitched two years in high school and “had a nasty curveball,” was saving himself. “My goal was to not hurt anybody. I saw (the catcher) didn’t have his gear on, so I had to pull back off the gun a little bit,” he said with a laugh.
Nance said he only took a few warmup throws before the game, while Deayon said “that was four months’ work right there” on his.
Sporting Fiesta Bowl championship gear per request, the pair said it has been tucked away for the most part this offseason, and will as fall camp approaches.
“We can’t let this go to our heads,” Nance said. “This is lovely, but we’re looking at bigger and better things. I had to take it out of the case and everything.”
TEE DOG, MEET BAT DOG
The Broncos have a dog that retrieves the kicking tee in their games, and on Thursday, the Hawks introduced Kohl, a black lab that retrieves bats.
Kohl made his debut in the second inning and picked up the Hawks’ bats that inning and the next. A rescue, he was trained for a few months at Sit Means Sit in Meridian for his task at Memorial Stadium. His antics elicited loud cheers from the crowd. The Hawks said he will return for a few more games this season, next likely July 3.
ALL RIGHTIES THEN
Three Hawks pitchers combined to yield one earned run while striking out six. Javier Palacios was the first starter to go seven innings on Opening Day in more than a decade. Palacios is part of a staff where all 16 pitchers on the Opening Day roster are right-handed pitchers.