Mike Smith has served as Clarke County’s baseball coach for the past three seasons. It is his second stint as the Eagles’ head coach. He also led the program from 2001 to 2003. In those six seasons, he has been named The Winchester Star’s Baseball Coach of the Year three times (2001, 2003 and 2018). He took the Eagles to the state quarterfinals in 2001 and 2003.

Smith is a 1981 graduate of Jefferson (W.Va.) High School where he was a two-sport athlete during his career.

Upon graduation, Smith initially attended Shepherd University, but left for a four-year stint in the Marine Corps. He finished his degree online from Penn State.

In addition to being a head baseball coach at Clarke County, he was a assistant twice — five seasons before taking over the program in 2003 and two seasons before taking over again in 2017.

He left Clarke County after the 2003 season to serve as an assistant coach for Kevin Anderson at Shenandoah University for a season. After he served as an assistant at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School for a season, Smith then spent four seasons and was part of a West Virginia state title staff at Jefferson under the legendary John Lowery, who has led that program for 49 seasons.

He also was a head coach for two seasons (2009 and 2010) at Millbrook. He left when his daughter Kylie attended Washington (W.Va.), where he was an assistant for four seasons before returning to Clarke County.

Smith also was a varsity wrestling coach with the Eagles for two seasons before becoming the baseball head coach for the first time.

Smith also has been heavily involved in the Valley Baseball League and was to have begun his second year as the Winchester Royals manager before the league canceled its season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Smith: It was everyday camaraderie with your teammates and your buddies. It’s doing everything together, the travel and just being on the field. It was unbelievable. It was the highs and the lows and being able to sit around with your friends as you get older and talk about the memories and the championships. It was just being a part of it. And it goes by so fast. You look now and say, ‘Where did those four years go?’ It was just being there for each other.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Smith: It really wasn’t in high school or in college. It was afterwards. It was basically when I became part of Coach Lowery’s family. (Smith has been married to Lowery’s niece Ann for 29 years.) He took me under his wing. He took me to the ABCA (American Baseball Coaches Association) meetings in Chicago and Philadelphia. We just traveled together and I decided, ‘Man, this is something I think I really want to do.’ He taught me how to be a coach, the right things to do, how to be around parents and just all of the little things.

My very first coaching position was on a Junior League team in Jefferson County. I jumped right in and became a head coach of a Junior League team there (1995). I did it just one year and then I was able to go right to Clarke County. … I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I knew right then that coaching kids was going to be it.

I’ll tell you a funny story. All of the fields were full in Jefferson County and I was like, ‘God, we need to practice. We just can’t hit the fields on Tuesdays and Thursdays.’ I talked to my father-in-law and we live on a farm about 200 acres out here. I said, ‘Can we take one corner of your cornfield and throw down some bases.’ He said, ‘Sure.’ We had to hit uphill. It was the funniest thing. I got them out here and we had to dodge cornstalks, but we able to have BP (batting practice). We couldn’t hit any groundballs, but we were able to hit, throw and hit fly balls to them. We did that a couple of days a week. It was before ‘Field of Dreams.’ Those are great memories.

Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?

Smith: Coach Lowery at Jefferson High School. Coach Kevin Anderson at Shenandoah. Those are guys I actually coached with and learned a lot from. There’s a few that I’ve been to clinics and have admired them and have basically stole their stuff — from practice plans to what to say and not to say to kids.

But those two, I would say set the groundwork for me moving forward.

Coach Lowery, my God, he’s got [12] state championships now. I’ll tell you, he let me take charge when I came in. Just saying, ‘Hey, you can hit in and out for me.’ I worked with the hitters. They got me a video machine and I was able to break down guys. For him to trust me to do that meant a lot. Just to watch him handle kids, game situations and how he handled himself, I still use a lot of his stuff today. … He did a lot of things by his gut and not so much by the book. That’s what I really liked and got from him by doing that. It’s all in your gut and what you think is going to be the right call. Sometimes, you got have to live with when maybe your call was not right, but it’s what you thought was best.

That’s what I got from both of those guys, too. You’ve got to do it and live with the consequences later. Bad coaches can lose games, but players will win you the games. That’s stuck with me and that’s why I like talking about my kids and not about myself so much because people read the box score and know that we won.

And also Coach Chris Parker, I was under him at Clarke County in my first stop. I’d also like to mention Coach Mark Hash at Washington. He took me in and I learned some things from him. He was very supportive of me.

Q. What is the best coaching advice you’ve received?

Smith: One that you don’t see a lot if, but what I believe in is, “That you are just as good as the input you get from your assistant coaches.’ Those guys aren’t there to just sit on a bucket, throw BP or hit fly balls. When I was younger I was about me and thought it was about how I was going to run things. I got input, but I was just stubborn at times. I’ve had great assistant coaches and I pick their brains to no end. I go to them a lot now. ‘What do you think is right here? This is the situation or this is who I have got hitting here. You watch him hit BP. Do you think he’s a good two-hole hitter? Should I move him up?’ Those are things where I will put it down on paper, but I do like their input and their feelings about it. I’ll hand them the lineup card and say, ‘What have you got?’ After the game, I’ll say what I’ve got to say and then I’ll say to my assistant coaches, ‘Do you have anything you have to say?’ There’s been times where I have been in huddles where I never had a chance. These guys, I want them to say what they have to say. … I’ve always like the assistant coaches. They are there for a reason and have been hired for a reason. Don’t forget about them.

Q. What have been you most difficult coaching moments?

Smith: I have had difficult moments. A lot of them have been in-game situations where do I leave a guy in pitching. That’s a difficult moment. Do I take him out with a lead? … I have made some great moves. In 2001 I made one of the best pinch-hitting moves in my career. It worked out and we scored two runs and moved on to the state tournament. You just don’t know. They’re kids. You just don’t know. You could sub another kid into a situation and it’s just what it is. … If we’re talking baseball and between the lines, it’s pitching changes, pinch-hitting, making a decision on a rain game. Do we play it or do we wait to the next day? Do we take a chance to get this game in? You wouldn’t believe the difficult moments you have to put up with by just trying to play a game sometimes.

Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Smith: In 2003, we did not win the [Bull Run] regular season and back then you have got to win the district tournament in order to get into the postseason. We are playing Rappahannock and it is the bottom of the seventh. We have a man on second and two outs. We’re down to our final out and I’m thinking, ‘Here we are going to lose to Rappahannock with probably one of my better teams that we’ve had. We’re one out from it getting ready to end.’ Stacy Poston hits a ball to right field. When their right fielder goes to his left — I’m not sure if he had to dive but I don’t think he did — he stumbles and he lays out and the ball hits in his glove and pops out. I literally could not believe it. The run from second scores and ties the game. Poston eventually moves to second and we get a base hit and win the game. From there moving forward, we ended up winning the district title. We had to go play at Strasburg. The fog was so thick that night that we could not see the tops of the players’ heads. They called the game and we moved it to Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg and we ended up winning the championship. We ended up traveling about 1,100 miles on a school bus. We were literally everywhere. We ended up at Chatham playing for the regional championship and we won that game. Billy Ray Thompson pitched the game of his life and Will Schulhof hit a two-run homer to left-center. Matt Ernst came in in relief and pitched with his arm hanging on. He ended up being an All-State player that year. We won that game and won the school’s first and as of right now only regional championship. We were able to host the first state playoff game at Clarke County High School and that hasn’t been repeated since. That 2003 team has a banner in the outfield. That was the best group. That 2018 team did some great things, but [the 2003 players] were grinders. Out of that group one kid [Schulhof] went on to play college baseball. … Those kids were under-the-radar grinders and I can’t say enough about them. They were an unbelievable group of kids.

My 2001 group, we also went to the state tournament. We weren’t regional champs but we went the hard way. We were regional runner-ups, but we had the Player of the Year that year in the district — P.J. Hinson. That was a special group too. … We went to Goochland for a big regional game and defeated Justin Verlander 1-0 in nine innings.

— Compiled by Walt Moody

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