What a memory!
Imagine, interviewing a future Major League Baseball Hall of Fame player.
Believe it or not, my colleague, Lynn Davidson and I, did just that when Boston Red Sox pitcher John Smoltz came to Augusta last week. Smoltz, the former Atlanta Braves' star pitcher and team leader, currently is playing with the Greenville Drive, a minor league team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, who acquired Smoltz after last season.
Those of us in attendance only got to see the 42-year-old Smoltz pitch three innings. Such is common for a big leaguer just returning from surgery. Even though his time on the mound was short-lived, he was most impressive - firing a total of 29 pitches - 23 of them strikes. The other six pitches were called balls. He gave up just one hit - a single to Augusta's Juan Perez, who led off the second inning.
Despite his performance, Augusta went on to win the game 8-3.
As we were sitting in the stands enjoying the game from the reserve section, I received a call on my cell phone from Barclay Bishop, a reporter with WJBF television. Barclay said she and other reporters were gathering near the visitor's dressing room in preparation of interviewing Smoltz.
I could hardly believe it. Suddenly, I felt like a youngster I was so excited! Immediately, I told Lynn that we needed to leave because we were going to interview Smoltz. She was like I was - in utter disbelief. Neither of us had any idea that we might get an opportunity to interview him - one of the great modern-day era players.
He said of his performance that he was "really happy" and that things "clicked well." Smoltz also said that following his three innings of work, it was comforting to know that he had accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish during that time. Some of those things included getting a feel of the baseball again, as well as throwing out runners at first base - one on a sharp come-backer to him.
It marked the first time that Smoltz had been back to pitch in Georgia since leaving Atlanta for Boston.
He openly admitted that he had mixed emotions beforehand.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, but was honored by the crowd," Smoltz said. "I know the process I am about to go through is about to be hectic. I needed the experience to have people in the seats and to get through a real-game experience rather than a simulated game. There were all of those situations that I've missed for a year."
My question to Smoltz was: With all you've accomplished in your career, what's the one thing that you'd still like to accomplish before saying goodbye to baseball?
Smoltz replied, "That's really a good question. I don't think there's anything that I have left to do. I just hope I know when that time is. I'll stop playing baseball and enjoy sitting down with my basketball and golf clubs next to me."
He also has aspirations of working with young kids who dream of becoming big leaguers like him, someday. Smoltz said he wants to be a positive influence and an inspiration to them.
Smoltz said he felt good, mentally being back on the mound.
"I'm not going to lie: it did a lot for me. It felt good, relaxing. Pitching in rehab is a little less stress."
Asked what it will be like when he faces the Braves for the first time, Smoltz said, "I worried about that until I decided to distance myself from the thought. Facing Chipper Jones is going to be tough. I may walk him a few times. I'd like to have at least three games under my belt before facing them."
Life couldn't be better than he finds it today. Not only is Smoltz progressing in his rehab, his personal life also has changed. He got re-married two weeks ago and says he's "very happy." He has four children from a previous marriage, while his new bride has two children.