Using a roster of 72 different players, the Trenton Thunder are set to embark on their third straight postseason appearance for just the second time in franchise history. While the faces in the dugout have seemed to come and go through a revolving door, the one that has never stopped smiling over the course of those 203 roster moves has been the one sporting jersey number 48, batboy Tommy Smith.
Despite being a person with special needs, the 27-year old Smith is just another guy in a Thunder uniform on a given night. Since inheriting his batboy duty in a part-time capacity at the beginning of the 2016 season, Tommy’s personality has seemed to grow with his popularity while becoming an integral seam in the fabric of the Yankees Double-A affiliate.
Tommy is viewed as an Energizer Bunny of sorts for the second place Thunder. Not only is he damn good at his job, but he brings a little bit extra to get the fans and players into the moment of the game. When he isn’t signing autographs or throwing a pre-game bullpen session, Smith is raising his hands to amp-up the crowd and hugging his teammates as they cross home plate after scoring a run. Celebrating and hugging – that is what Tommy does best.
Thunder General Manager Jeff Hurley played a vital role in orchestrating the addition of Tommy in 2016 and is happy with how he has developed as a young man while also helping some of the Yankees most promising young prospects grow as players and individuals.
“Me and Tommy’s dad [Tom Sr.] met about a year prior to 2016; both of us sit on the board of the Miracle League of Mercer County,” explained Hurley. “As we started talking, we kind of came up with the idea of having Tommy as a bat boy to help out during some of the games. When it first started, we were thinking select games and he would come in and work two or three innings and that would pretty much be it.”
Hurley added, “After that, I think the way that the team took to Tommy and the coaching staff at the time, with Bobby Mitchell and Jose Rosado, it went from two or three innings to us all agreeing to keep him out there working. It started out as a part-time type thing and not being sure how everybody is going to go with Tommy out there, and it has evolved above into more than what we could have ever thought of. The team has just took him in like he was part of the Trenton Thunder.”
Tommy gained national attention earlier this season when he was embraced and befriended by former Heisman Trophy winner turned Mets prospect, Tim Tebow. The former star NFL quarterback convinced Tommy to ditch his loyalty to the Thunder by working a game in the visiting dugout while donning the uniform of the rival Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
“He’s really cool,” Tebow said earlier this season. “I love it every time he gets a bat and he starts putting his hands up and getting the crowd hyped. It brings me a lot of joy to watch that and also watch the crowd react to him.”
When Tebow returned to ARM & HAMMER Park a few short weeks later to partake in the Eastern League all-star game, many of the questions posed to him were centered around his budding friendship with Tommy. At that time, it felt surreal to people who were unfamiliar with his story, that a guy who is as globally recognized as Tebow, was standing before a sea of national reporters talking about the bat boy for a visiting team. It was only surreal if you didn’t know Tommy.
Just a few days after that all-star game in Trenton, I was tasked with traveling down to Washington, D.C. to cover the MLB Future’s Game and more specifically, the Yankees lone representative in the game, Justus Sheffield. The organizations top-pitching prospect was thriving for Triple-A Scranton after beginning the campaign in Trenton. During media availability at Nationals Park, Sheffield was asked what the biggest takeaway was from his time with the Thunder. His response had nothing to do with his on-field development.
“Honestly, I will tell you one thing that I do miss, and that’s hanging out with Tommy Smith, the batboy there – that was my homie,” admitted Sheffield. “I was out there every day with him, hanging out. He brought joy to the locker room.”
As a writer, the grind of a minor league season is nowhere near as grueling as it is for the players or the staff, but there are certainly nights at the yard when you just don’t have your best stuff. Players have poor nights on the field, writers have sub-par nights in the press box producing content for loyal readers. My favorite part about coming to the ARM & HAMMER Park every single night is knowing that I will get to see Tommy in action. He never has a bad night at the ballpark, at least it feels that way. His passion, his joy, his excitement…his smile. It is all constant and contagious and it never wavers. His spirit often drives me to push through and enjoy every single moment for what it is.
I often recall one of my earliest memories of Tommy going back to 2016 when the media beat was gathered in the locker room for pre-game availability. Players were sitting at their respective lockers while others were lounging on the couches in the center of the clubhouse browsing their phones or listening to music on their headphones. The tone was one that was very laid back and quiet – that changed abruptly.
Sporting a backwards Thunder cap and an unbuttoned Yankees jersey, Tommy strutted into the clubhouse as the signature theme song of WWE superstar John Cena blared throughout the bluetooth speaker in the locker room. With his arms raised high above his head, Tommy immediately began to individually embrace each guy with Cena’s patented “you can’t see me” hand gesture, before grappling and pinning a few of them on the ground as if he were the heavyweight champion of the world. That is who Tommy is. He has the special ability to walk into any room and lighten the mood instantaneously. He is the people’s champion in every sense.
I know for certain that I was not the only one with a story like that. Being around the team so frequently, you can’t help but notice Tommy’s presence and the profound impact that it has had on various levels of the franchise.
I have appeared as a guest on a few radio shows and podcasts in recent weeks to speak about Tommy as an individual and what it is like to be around him on a daily basis. While going on those broadcasts and sharing my experiences and interactions with him over the last three seasons, it made me realize that there were so many other people out there who have stories to tell just like mine. Instead of writing a few thousand words about what I think of Tommy, I wanted to reach out to people in various ranks throughout the organization to hear theirs.
That thought prompted me to spend the last two weeks talking to dozens of people – everybody from players both past and present, coaches, front office members, broadcasters, all the way down to stadium security. They have all had their own “Tommy moments” and I don’t think that you can properly tell his inspiring story without accurately painting the picture of his wide-reaching impact.
Without the use of my words, I allowed others to take the wheel and tell me exactly what they wanted the world to know about Tommy Smith. You will find that all of these people have had varying roles at different times, yet the theme of their responses is universal. These are their stories.
- Jose Mesa Jr. Thunder pitcher (2017-2018): “Tommy has been a guy that from the very first time that I saw him walk in the clubhouse, just filled me with joy. His upbeat personality keeps everyone in the clubhouse energized and happy. Seeing how happy he is with simple things that we sometimes take for granted is humbling and takes me back to the days when I used to do community service with the Miracle League kids in high school. Those are days that I would never take back because I feel that they helped mold me to be who I am today. To me, Tommy is just one of the guys; he walks in and does his dance and makes sure that he says hello to everyone and goodbye when he leaves. A memory of him that I can take with me aside from his dancing has to be when he took a nap on me during an early game after he worked a couple of nights in a row.”
- Cale Coshow, Thunder pitcher (2015-2017). Currently with Triple-A Scranton: “Tommy lights up any room that he walks int. You should’ve seen the clubhouse here in Scranton when he walked in to visit a few weeks back. We would make a “joke” in Trenton that when Tommy showed up we would win. Come to find out that joke was true. He lightens the mood for every player and coach, and he makes us realize that baseball is supposed to be fun. He’s an awesome guy and he’s a great guy to have around.”
- Patrick Jones, Thunder Clubhouse Attendant and Batboy (2014-2018): “What is special about Tommy is that he is not viewed as a person with special needs by myself or the team. To us he is just Tommy and he is a part of our team. When Tommy first came here, I had no idea what to really expect; he was pretty quiet. That is hard to believe now though. I didn’t expect that Tommy would become more than just the batboy, but he has become one of my best friends. In the dugout he loves to interact with everyone and have fun. Most of all, he likes to work. He takes his job pretty seriously, but does like to have fun with the guys during a break. He brings a lot of joy to the dugout and helps us remember that baseball is still a game after all. He is excited all day for the games and often calls me early in the afternoon before a game or a home stand. Tommy is more than just my friend at the ballpark – we stay in touch year-round and have developed a true friendship. Outside of the Thunder, I will take him to one of his favorite restaurants, Hooters or Moe’s, during a long road trip or in the offseason. I couldn’t imagine working here without Tommy because it really is a dual job with us here.”
- Fran Lippincott, Thunder Security staff (1996-2018): “It is such a treat to stand back and watch Tommy interact with everyone in the ballpark. From high-fiving fans and signing autographs for them to the way that he and Patrick [Jones] work together during the game. Players and coaches have all embraced him and made him a part of the team like any other name on the roster. For me, there is no way to have a bad day when around Tommy. Hugs, high-fives and his hearty laugh puts all things in perspective.”
- Josh Rogers, Thunder pitcher (2017), Currently in MLB with Baltimore Orioles: “Having Tommy around not only as a batboy but having him around in the clubhouse was always one of the bright spots of my days at the field. He brings a smile to everyone’s face whether you’re having a bad day or a good day.”
- Devyn Bolasky, Thunder outfielder (2016-2018), Currently with Triple-A Scranton: “Tommy is just as much a part of that team as anyone on that roster. He loves just being at the ballpark and the guys enjoy having him around.”
- Vince Marcucci, Thunder Director, Corporate & Community Affairs (2016-2018): “Having Tommy at the ballpark each day creates an atmosphere unlike anything that I’ve ever seen. He’s a person full of joy and enthusiasm that is infectious to those around him.I feel like when our staff sees Tommy on the field before a game, it creates a sense of calm. No matter how insane pre-game may get, everyone takes the time to say hello and receive one of Tommy’s good luck or good job hugs. The interaction might only be five seconds, but it energizes you for the night ahead. For me, the oddest part about having Tommy around is that I hope we are losing going into the ninth inning some nights. If you’ve ever seen Tommy get the crowd hyped after our Rocky Balboa clip, you’ll know what I mean. Tommy really gets the crowd going. The camera and all of the eyes in the ballpark are on him. As soon as the video ends, Tommy’s picture is up on the video board and he is boxing at the camera and people go crazy. No matter the outcome, people leave the ballpark with a smile on their face.”
- Jay Bell, Thunder Manager (2018): “These guys love him. They love what he does – he comes every day with a great attitude and he just loves to be here. I love his dad; his dad is a wonderful guy. I got to meet his dad [Tom] before the season and I have really been impressed with how he loves his son and takes pride in the fact that he is out there on the field. Tommy has done a real nice job as a bat boy; the fans love him, the players love him, and he just brings an energy to the field. The fun thing for me is that as we are going through and talking about stuff, he will joke and do stuff. Like last night – he was putting my hat on his head and trying to hand me his helmet to take out to the field. He was just laughing and it is such a genuine laugh. It is precious and priceless to have him on the bench.”
- Jon Mozes, Thunder Broadcaster (2014-2018): “Tommy just always brings positive energy. It is a long baseball season and it doesn’t matter what has happened the night before, or how many days that we have been working in a row, he just always has the same attitude. He’s got the same smile, brings the same energy and he just always has the smile on that brings up spirits and it’s just amazing.
- Spenser Smith, Thunder Broadcaster (2018): “One moment with Tommy that stands out to me was during the all-star game here. It is this huge event, Jon [Mozes] and I are running around upstairs and downstairs, flying around all over the place – it was a lot of work and frankly at times became overwhelming. In the midst of it all, right around when the teams were getting ready to take batting practice, Tommy came into the area after interacting with [Tim] Tebow for a while and came off to the side and just extended his arms outward and just wanted a hug from me. That kind of helped put things in perspective for me that this is a grind and this is hard work, but it is still a fun game and that we are supposed to be having fun and enjoying ourselves and he kind of serves as a reminder of that.”
- Jeff Hurley, Thunder General Manager: “I think that we have really seen Tommy’s personality grow into the person that we now all know and love. When he comes to the games and walks down the clubhouse hallway, everybody shouts his name, front office included. Everybody knows who Tommy is and he brightens up the room and brightens up the dugout. You can never get enough Tommy-hugs and it is just great to see him around the team.”
For a young man to simply show up to his job and be able to provide so much to so many by doing nothing more than be himself is what makes Tommy so very inspiring. His smile is authentic, his laugh is genuine, his love is infectious and it is all from his soul. Members of the Thunder pitching staff recently got together and purchased a personalized Nokona-brand baseball glove and presented it to Tommy last week. The idea was spearheaded by pitcher Brody Koerner, who thought it would be a nice gesture to show Tommy that he is appreciated and cared about by the team.