With D-I commitment, Central York pitcher realizes dream, fulfills faith of his late coach

Central York High pitcher Grant Smeltzer poses for a photo at the Fairfield University baseball field. The Panthers' right-hander committed to pitch at Fairfield on July 4.
  • Grant Smeltzer committed to pitch at Fairfield University on July 4.
  • Smeltzer gained interest from the school after attending showcase events.
  • Smeltzer increased his fastball velocity from 81 mph to 87 mph this year.
Grant Smeltzer

As he entered 2020, Grant Smeltzer’s prospects of realizing his NCAA Division I baseball dreams looked bleak.

The Central York High School pitcher was a 5-foot, 10-inch, 170-pound right-hander with a fastball that topped out at 81 mph. That’s not exactly the profile that college coaches are looking for in a pitching recruit.

Before this summer, Smeltzer described the recruiting attention he had received from NCAA coaches as “not much.” A few D-III schools had shown some real interest, but it was far from the goal he set for himself when he stopped playing other sports to focus on baseball before high school.

So, when the spring season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smeltzer committed to changing his workout routine. He used the downtime to transform his body and his future. He worked out with his friend, Red Land pitcher Benny Montgomery, who is a University of Virginia commit. Montgomery, the No. 4-ranked national baseball recruit in the 2021 class, helped Smeltzer tweak his delivery, improving his fastball speed.

After months of working out six days per week, the Panthers’ pitcher proved he had what it takes to pitch at the next level when he committed to play D-I baseball at Fairfield University in Connecticut over the weekend.

“It was crazy,” Smeltzer said. “I definitely felt like I achieved something. It was great to make my parents proud of me after they spent so much money to get me seen (by college coaches).”

Summer showcase season: Smeltzer’s first chance to show off the results of his hard work came early in June. He attended a showcase event held by Perfect Game, which plays host to the premier baseball recruits in the U.S., in Ohio.

The goal of the trip was to record a high fastball velocity. Smeltzer, now 5-11, 185, passed that test with ease. He recorded an 87-mph pitch and started to get on the radar of college coaches.

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Up next was the Pennsylvania all-state event for Prep Baseball Report. Smeltzer tried out for the showcase before the pandemic and said it was the biggest event of the summer for him. The games were streamed online and the right-hander said more than 100 college coaches watched.

With so much attention on the event, Smeltzer admitted he was nervous when he took the mound. Still, with the confidence he carried over from the Perfect Game performance, he was ready for his opportunity to prove he belonged with the other highly-recruited players.

“You just have to get out there and show what you have,” Smeltzer said. “You train all year for this type of stuff."

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The Panthers’ pitcher didn’t waste any time once he took the ball. He struck out the side in the first inning and punched out eight of the 12 batters he faced in a dominant outing. Smeltzer didn’t have to wait much longer to finally learn what it felt like to have NCAA D-I coaches chase after him.

“I got off the mound and my phone was blowing up,” Smeltzer said. “It was pretty cool.” 

For the next two weeks, Smeltzer said he fielded a barrage of phone calls and texts from coaches who had interest in him. During the process, one school stuck out as different than the rest.

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Joining the Fairfield family: Smeltzer said the conversations he had with the Fairfield staff were almost daily during the recruiting process. They would check in to see how his latest outing with Pleasureville in the Central League went or talk about the Stags’ program, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Fairfield was 2-9 overall in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the Stags' season.

After a few Zoom conversations, Smeltzer and his family were invited by the coaches to take a tour of the facility.

To comply with NCAA rules, none of Fairfield’s coaches could be present when the recruit showed up, but they did unlock the complex to let him see the locker room and walk on the baseball field. On the car ride from Fairfield to tour Monmouth University in New Jersey, Smeltzer got the offer from Fairfield and made his decision to join the Stags a few days later.

There in spirit: While Smeltzer was ecstatic to share the moment with his family, there was someone missing who he wished could have been there with them. In June, Central York baseball coach Mike Valencik died from cancer and just missed the recruiting attention Smeltzer received after the PBR event.

“When everybody else was telling me I wasn’t a D-I guy, he was the guy telling me I was,” Smeltzer said. “He always told me I had the potential to do it, I just needed to work for it.” 

Smeltzer said the last time he spoke to Valencik was after a D-II coach called to talk about the rising senior. Smeltzer added that his coach was proud that he had interest from the school, but told him to continue to work harder so he could reach his ultimate goal of pitching at the premier level in college. 

While Smeltzer was on the tour of the Fairfield facility, his father took a photo of the field, hit the back button on his phone and a social media post about Valencik appeared on his phone. His coach, mentor and No. 1 supporter couldn’t be there in person, but Smeltzer said he took it as a sign that Valencik knew that he had achieved the goal they both believed he could.

“I kind of knew, ‘OK, that’s him seeing where I’m at,’” Smeltzer said.

Hard work continues: Smeltzer’s summer plans include another PBR event and playing in the local men’s league as he prepares for his senior season at Central. While he has achieved his goal and proved he belongs at the D-I level, he knows the hard work must continue.

The Panthers’ right-hander expects everyone to give him their best shot next season and will use it as fuel to get after it even more in the gym and on the mound. He hopes that he can get his fastball up to 89 mph by next season and continues to work out an average of three hours per day.

It took a lot of work and patience for Smeltzer to receive the recognition he desired, but the delay only made the reward that much sweeter. He knows the hard work is what earned him this opportunity and still can’t believe that the kid who struggled to generate an offer from D-III programs became a prospect that D-I college coaches were calling daily.

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“All the hard that I have put into this is finally paying off,” Smeltzer said. “There are some kids in this world that are just natural athletes and can go out and just do it, but for me it’s been an absolute grind. It was really just great for me to see that.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.