September 12, 2022 at 9:07 p.m.
“Whether it’s farming or coaching sports, I do what I do because I love it and have fun doing it,” Smith said. “Baseball is a big-time commitment, and if you don’t love it, you aren’t going to do it – just like farming.”
Smith milks 35 cows and farms 150 acres near Hartland. He takes pride in developing quality cattle at Franview Farm, which is home to an all-registered herd. Smith’s son, Andy, helps with fieldwork, and some of his other players lend a hand as well.
“They know how much time and effort I put into the team, and they help me on the farm so I don’t fall behind,” Smith said. “They unload hay and straw and sometimes help with evening chores after games. We can be gone up to eight hours on a Saturday playing ball, and they’ll help me get the work done when we get back.”
Smith has been the manager for the Monches Irish amateur baseball team since 2006 – the same year Andy graduated from Arrowhead High School. Andy’s high school baseball team was a state runner up, and the players on that team made up the majority of the roster the first year Smith coached the Monches. Today, Andy is the only player left from the original ’06 team.
“This is competitive baseball comparable to the college level,” Smith said. “It’s not a softball beer league. You have to love the game to play here, and you usually have to know someone to get on an amateur team.”
Named after the unincorporated town of Monches, the Monches Irish is one of the original teams in the Land O’Lakes League, which was formed in 1922.
“Everyone seems to like our league,” Smith said. “It’s probably one of the best in the state for competition. It’s appealing to players and recruiters.”
In his youth, Smith was a three-sport athlete, playing basketball, football and baseball. He is also a former amateur baseball player, spending 17 years with North Lake – another amateur team in the Land O’ Lakes League. With many games under his belt as both coach and player, Smith is a veteran on the field.
Smith also has a daughter, Courtney, and coached his kids in basketball and baseball when they were growing up. Smith has other interests off the farm as well, including playing cards and dart ball. But, his passion for the game of baseball tops the list.
Amateur baseball is a Smith family tradition, with three generations having played in the Land O’Lakes League, and Smith’s dad, Pat, is in the league’s hall of fame.
“He was the best player of us three,” Smith said.
Players in amateur baseball can range in age from high school graduates to men in their 40s. Most of Smith’s players are out of college and in their mid-20s. His oldest player is 36. There are 18 guys on the roster, and Smith has an established team and has not had to recruit players recently.
“My favorite thing about coaching is the guys,” he said. “I have a good group playing for me, and we have a great fan base too. I love the camaraderie, the locker room talk and just hanging out together. Each player has a nickname also.”
Seeing the likes of past Major League baseball players – whether in the stands or in the field – is not all that uncommon at an amateur baseball game. For example, one of Smith’s teammates was former Milwaukee Brewer, Don August. And currently, Jim Gantner comes to watch Monches Irish games. Guys released from the minor leagues who are trying to get back in can also be found on some amateur teams.
“They all still love the game of baseball and want to play in a competitive league,” Smith said. “A lot of college kids play in the league too.”
The Land O’Lakes League contains 22 teams and four divisions. Smith’s team plays in the Lake Country division which is made up of six teams. They play 18 regular-season games as well as six games in a night league.
“Playing in the night league gives everyone a chance to play,” Smith said. “I can put in some of the guys who don’t get to play on a regular basis.”
The team also plays several preseason games, and when they make it to the playoffs, they may play close to 30 games total in a season which starts the first week of May and can last until late August.
The Monches Irish’s record this year was 21-6. They were the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs and won both games in the regional championship in extra innings in walk-off fashion. The first game was won by a walk-off double, and in the second game, a two-run homerun walk-off won the game for the Irish. The game had gone into extra innings when the Irish hit a homerun to tie.
“It was very exciting, and it got us to the championship,” Smith said. “You can’t write that story. It was almost like destiny.”
The Monches Irish had a great season under Smith’s management, making it to the grand championship Aug. 20. However, they lost to Waterford, another No. 1 seed, 3-1 in the semifinals. Waterford then went on to win it all after beating Racine.
“That’s the farthest we’ve gone yet,” Smith said. “I tell the guys to play hard and have fun. Some days are good, and some aren’t good enough.”
The Monches Irish are planning to make another run for the championship next year.
“We’re in the window to win it,” Smith said. “We’re close.”
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