San Quentin opened its 2018 baseball season with both joy and sadness. San Quentin’s A’s defeated the visiting San Francisco Mission 11-8. But the retirement of long-time sponsor Elliot Smith was bittersweet for the free and incarcerated ballplayers.
“Elliot carried this program for a long time,” said A’s sponsor, Steve Reichardt. “It’s tough seeing him walking off this field for the last time.”
ICE reported “24,476 of the 185,507 inmates in the federal Bureau of Prisons system were not citizens…” THE NEW YORK TIMES Dec. 22, 2017
Smith, 75, started volunteering in San Quentin in 1995 and all the memories of those past seasons rushed through his mind as he threw out the opening pitch.
“As I look back I have a lot of accomplishments,” said Smith. “Many players have passed through here, and I hope I have brought them some light in their darkest place known as the cell blocks.
“I hope I have helped them learn how to deal with adversity,” added Smith.
For 23 years, Smith was San Quentin’s Baseball Program ambassador. He would prep numerous visiting teams on the prison rules, before walking them down the long winding road that leads to the prison’s Lower Yard and baseball field.
“I feel like I have influenced the outsiders who came in,” said Smith. “By exposing them to the people inside and showing they are human beings. The visitors would go back out and share their experience with family and friends.
“I believe that helped people to be more tolerant and not treat people inside as animals in a zoo”
“I believe that helped people to be more tolerant and not treat people inside as animals in a zoo,” continued Smith.
As Smith’s chapter came to an end, the A’s still had a game to play. A’s veteran and utility player Anthony “T-Tone” Denard showcased skills of a MVP as he went 3-for-4 at bat with 2 RBIs (runs batted in). Denard even took the mound in a series to shut down the Mission who staged a rally in the eighth inning, when the team was down 9-5 to close the lead 9-7 with the bases loaded. Denard walked in a run but fanned the next batter to save the lead 9-8.
“I want to thank Elliot for putting his blood, sweat and tears into this program,” said Denard. “He gave me a chance to play a game I love. I was one who took the game from me on the streets. But through Elliot I relived my dream again.”
Denard played in the minor leagues and had a chance to go to the majors, before being incarcerated.
“Coming here you have a sense of community,” said Mission’s Mike Nadolny. “I know it gives the guys a sense of normalcy. With baseball it teaches you how to work through your anxieties and helps you to dig deep into yourself and not to panic when things are not going your way.
“I think this is what the guys can learn from this program,” added Nadolny.
The Mission comeback ended in the bottom of the eighth. Mission’s relief pitcher threw a wild pitch that shot past the catcher, allowing a run. A’s Manuel Murillo smacked a line drive single past the second base gap to score another run for the 11-8 lead.
In the ninth, the Mission went down swinging. The A’s tightened their defense, and with one final pop-fly to center field, they sealed the win.
“It all starts with teamwork,” said Max Hickson, A’s first-year player. “We have a good group of guys and that makes me want to play hard.”
With the retirement of Smith the San Quentin’s Giants’ season is on hold, making the A’s roster balloon to 20 players. The team’s mixture of veterans and solid first-year players could prove to be a recipe for success.
As the game wrapped up, the A’s teams formed a circle, placing their hands on top of each other and in unison yelled “Elliot” (Smith) on three. The 75-year-old will be remembered for always wearing the San Quentin’s baseball jersey along with his beloved Chicago Cubs cap. The two teams were his two baseball passions.
“No matter how old you are, you still have life ahead of you, so do what you have to do to get out,” said Smith, encouraging those in prison.