Story written by Henley Edge, Class of 2017 Editor’s note: McCallie senior Henley Edge aspires to a career in sportswriting. As an exercise, Henley decided to write a profile of 2016 graduate and McCallie baseball player Quinn Smith and his grandfather. A brief excerpt of the story was published in the Fall 2016 issue of McCallie Magazine. Here is Henley's complete story.
The frustrated expression that covered the eleven-year-old boy’s sweat-drenched face had set in long ago. It was a hot summer day and he was tired, but that was the last thing on his mind. All he wanted was to see that little white ball sail over the chain link fence that stood far behind his grandfather.
But as the two exhausted bucket after bucket of old baseballs, failure loomed. Discouragement was beginning to take over; but young Quinn Smith wasn’t ready to quit.
Then it happened. Garry Bell threw a perfectly placed pitch, right in his grandson’s favorite spot, and the boy released all his boiling aggravation on the baseball with a smooth, powerful swing.
Smith knew it was gone from the time it left his bat. With a surge of confidence, he sent the next pitch screaming over the left field wall with the same violent swing. The floodgates had opened. The little eleven-year-old boy dished out the same fate to the next three pitches, even taking the last one for a ride inside the right field foul pole. The adrenaline pumping through his tiny body had the boy glowing with a new sense of confidence. He had broken his unbreakable barrier, and he was five dollars richer.
For Garry Bell, this story is just a single memory of the countless afternoons he has spent on the baseball field with his grandson, but it still stands out as one of the most telling.
“For Quinn to believe he’s capable of doing something, he’s always just had to go out and do it,” Bell said of McCallie’s senior catcher. “I always tell him ‘You can do this, you can do that,’ but he knows that’s what I’m supposed to say. I’m his grandpa.”
As titles go, “grandpa” may be appropriate in a familial sense, but Bell’s relationship with his grandson goes much deeper than family ties. The two have spent endless hours together, always performing that same sacred ritual, round upon round of batting practice. It’s a relationship founded on love and respect, but expressed in long days in the batting cage.
In the beginning, it was Mr. Bell who saw unthinkable potential in his grandson. Both admit that in those first few years, it was he who always seemed to make the call, pushing his grandson to build the foundation of a strong work ethic.
“Even on days I didn’t want to, he would always take me out to hit. He knew just how good I could be,” Smith said.
Gradually, those roles reversed. Quinn began taking the initiative, calling his granddad whenever possible. For Mr. Bell, prodding was no longer necessary, and all those hours started to pay off. Those long days at the cages even became so regular that they became a part of everyday life.
“The two of us always stay at the field as long as it takes for his arm to get tired. And usually that means three or four calls from my mom telling us we have to come home and eat dinner,” Smith said, only half joking.
These batting practice sessions have caught the attention of everyone in the McCallie baseball program. Teammates attest that it’s not unusual to see the two in the cages at any time of day, in any weather, or any time of the year. For the grandfather-grandson duo, it is a routine as sacred as any old tradition.
Their recipe of hard work and dedication has certainly paid dividends for the senior catcher. As a four-year member of the varsity team, Quinn had his share of experience, but his success has multiplied each season. This year, Smith batted an unbelievable .385 while also sporting an even more impressive .754 slugging percentage.
However, his power numbers are just as astounding, including an imposing count of 8 home runs. Indeed, Smith’s senior season is reminiscent of that hot summer day seven years earlier, as each hit or home run seems to send a barrage behind it. His grandfather explains the phenomenon well, saying, “When Quinn has success, it breeds even more success. That’s just the way he is. Once he believes he can do something, good luck stopping him.” Mr. Bell’s comments were supported most clearly in McCallie’s efforts in the first week of April, a three-game stretch in which Smith belted an eye-popping four home runs. The finale of those four was a towering shot over left field fence at Vanderbilt.
As impressive as Smith’s numbers are, his efforts are even more concentrated when his team turns to him most. He has become known for his clutch hitting, driving in 43 runs to this point in the season, and he even brandishes a 1.8 ERA when called to the hill.
In all, these accomplishments make for one proud grandfather and an equally thankful grandson. “That’s what keeps me coming back,” says Mr. Bell. “Every year he gets better. And as long as he continues to improve, that makes all the work we put in together worthwhile.”
However, both Quinn and his grandfather admit that all those long days are about far more than baseball. “At this point, it’s about getting to spend time with him more than anything else,” says Smith. His grandfather agrees wholeheartedly. “I hate to say it, but he’s gotten so good now that I can’t teach him anything else,” admits Bell. “The only thing I can do is enjoy being around my grandson and encourage him every step of the way.”
As a senior, Smith wants to make certain his grandfather’s impact does not stop with him. Quinn has visibly taken younger players under his wing, even teaming up with other seniors to host instructive workouts for them in the offseason. Additionally, he seems to have set a standard for the care and attention that this year’s seniors show towards their younger counterparts. Coach Payne is unabashedly proud and appreciative of those efforts, saying “All the catchers in our program, all the way down to sixth grade, look up to Quinn because of the mentoring he has done with them. Quinn is a fun-loving guy and he likes to goof off, but when it comes to holding the younger guys accountable and helping them improve, he is very serious about it.” He even added that at times he would be forced to turn the catchers over to Quinn during practice, but that the productivity never wavered due to Quinn’s incredible leadership with the younger players.
For Quinn, his time and patience is infinitely rewarding. “I think it’s cool that so many of the younger guys that are starting and playing roles on the team this year are guys who came and worked out with the seniors this fall,” commented Smith, “At least two of the freshmen who made the team this year I spent a lot of time working with. Now I know that when I leave this summer, I’m still going to be a part of this program.” And because he is so successful on the field, Quinn’s effect on the younger players is even more exaggerated. He even speaks to how great it makes him feel that the players he works with talk to him in the hall like they’re his best friends. “When I was a freshman, I always thought about how cool it would’ve been to talk to the guys playing in the big games. Now I get to do that for these freshmen,” says the senior.
Part of the motivation for his guidance of so many younger players will not even be evident in the successes of this season, but next year, when Quinn’s younger brother, Grayson, enters the sixth grade. The senior wants to ensure that the next member of the Smith family, also a promising catcher, benefits from the foundation of mentorship he is laying. “I don’t want Grayson to come to McCallie and be left on his own,” says Quinn. “I want him to have someone to look up to, and I hope that is someone I have worked with.”
An old maxim states that baseball is a generational affair. Perhaps the sentiment behind that saying is the reason McCallie’s star catcher is determined not to let his grandfather’s impact terminate with his successes.