Man of many hats

Published 6:40 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

One of Demopolis’ favorite sons is has a new home for the 2009 season.

The Houston Astros announced Monday that former Demopolis High School standout Jason Smith is one of five players headed to Spring Training with the hopes of making the big club.

The Astros are the eighth organization of Smith’s career.

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“I played with (Kaz) Matsui with the Rockies and he has a tendency to get hurt quite a bit,” Smith said of the second baseman projected to be Houston’s starter. Matsui’s tendency to miss games creates the potential for increased playing for the player who earns the Astros’ utility infielder spot.

Additionally, Houston shortstop Miguel Tejada is believed to be on the downslope of his career, a fact that requires club management to rest him periodically.

Those factors combine to make Houston a desirable destination for virtually any reserve infielder seeking an opportunity for more playing time.

Enter Smith.

“They said I’d have a good opportunity to back both of them up,” Smith said of his decision to sign with the Astros.

The 31-year-old infielder made his Major League debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2001. He received only one at-bat that season before moving on to spend the 2002 and 2003 campaigns with Tampa Bay.

However, he was given only 69 plate appearances in two seasons with the Devil Rays and packed his bags for Detroit a year later.

After spending 2004-05 with the Tigers, Smith joined the Colorado Rockies for 2006. Then came the tumultuous 2007 season in which he spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals.

Smith returned to the Royals in 2008, but was again given only 28 at-bats.

“This is how I view it,” Smith said. “Last year was the first in four years that I’d gotten to play everyday for a consistent amount of time. It kind of gave me a little confidence.”

However, despite not having found an ideal situation thus far in his career, the journeyman infielder’s passion for the game has yet to wane as he continues to put on the cleats for one simple reason.

“I guess just the fact I feel like even though I’ve had chances to play at the Major League level, I haven’t had an opportunity,” Smith said. “That keeps driving me. Just put me out there every day to get consistent at-bats and see what I can do at the Major League level.”

The veteran, who can play second base, shortstop and third base, hopes the situation into which he walks this time finally provides him the opportunity he has sought for the entirety of his career.

“I know I’m not guaranteed to have that,” Smith said. “I’m shooting for the utility role.”

Smith, who resides in Meridian, Miss. with his family, has been weight training and conditioning throughout the offseason. Once the weather permits, he will resume baseball activities as he prepares to take his next shot at sticking in the big leagues.

“It’s just another day at the office for them,” Smith said of his family’s reaction to the signing. “It really doesn’t matter because we have to pick up and leave home no matter where it is.”