It's been Andy Smithmyer's lifetime goal to play professional baseball, and he's thankful that the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things are giving him a shot.
Smithmyer, 22, a 2009 graduate of Altoona Area High School who pitched collegiately for East Carolina University, signed a contract with the Wild Things, a suburban Pittsburgh independent team in the Frontier League, earlier this summer.
The right-hander has been working out of the bullpen for the Wild Things, appearing in seven games and pitching 5 innings so far this season with a 6.75 earned run average.
Andy Smithmyer, a 2009 Altoona Area High School graduate, is now pitching for the Wild Things.
"I think it's a good opportunity for me,'' Smithmyer said in a recent telephone interview. "Being close to home, my family has a good opportunity to come watch me pitch. This is a great opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing professional baseball.''
As a member of the Wild Things - whose roster this year also includes former Altoona Curve outfielder Quincy Lattimore - Smithmyer is paying his dues in the hopes of working his way up the professional baseball ladder.
The Wild Things aren't affiliated with a major league franchise, which is a situation that Smithmyer hopes to eventually become a part of.
"You have a lot of guys in this league who have been released from Class AAA and AA teams,'' Smithmyer said. "I pretty much compare it to playing in high Class A-level ball. It's definitely a high-level brand of professional baseball. There are a lot of veteran players in the league, and a rookie pitcher like me really has to pound the [strike] zone.''
While Major League Baseball players have the luxury of flying first-class to major metropolitan cities across the United States, players in the Frontier League must endure long bus rides to small towns like Joliet, Ill. and Evansville, Ind.
"The traveling definitely puts a toll on your body,'' Smithmyer said. "We had a doubleheader one day, then got on the bus for 10 hours to play the next day. You really have to concentrate and do well.''
After spending two years at Potomac State (W.Va.) Junior College, Smithmyer moved on to East Carolina's Division I baseball program in Greenville, N.C. In his first year at East Carolina, Smithmyer worked out of the bullpen and carded a 1.92 earned run average - among the top 20 in the nation - over 67 innings in 27 Conference USA appearances. He averaged over one strikeout per inning that year.
"I coached Andy for two great years,'' East Carolina University pitching coach Dan Roszel said. "He's a great kid. He's got a power fast ball with a little cut to it that reaches the low 90s, a good slider, and a developing change[-up]. He was our go-to guy out of our [bull]pen.
"I thought he'd have a chance to be drafted by a major league team, and I'm excited for him that he was picked up by the Wild Things,'' Roszel added. "Hopefully, he'll be noticed there by major league scouts and find his way into playing for a major league organization.''
Smithmyer pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, but sustained an elbow injury in his senior year of college that set him back a bit.
"I didn't have my A-plus stuff then,'' he said. "I didn't have everything working until the end of my senior year.''
Now, hopefully, he does.
"I've always been a strikeout pitcher, who has been known to get in there and get that punchout when I've needed it,'' Smithmyer said. "Now, I have a chance to pitch well out of the [bull]pen, get my feet underneath me, and hopefully, move on to an affiliated professional team.''