Perseverance is a word used a great deal in writing about athletes and their love for the game they play.
It describes 2008 Chesterton graduate Jeff Smith, a baseball player who lost all but one inning of his senior year due to knee problems, yet just couldn't walk away from the sport.
"I never really had that thought about it, that maybe baseball wasn't for me," Smith said. "I always thought I can overcome this."
At the end of the 2008 high school season, Smith's knees, both hobbled by diminished meniscus resulting from the rigors of catching, were feeling good. As long as they held up OK, he planned to head to Florida to continue playing. If not, he was looking at meniscus transplant surgery. Fortunately for Smith, his knees continued to get better through the course of therapy and rehabilitation.
"I don't have any pain," he said. "Probably since about September of a year ago, I've been fine. It's to the point where they are absolutely no longer an issue."
Smith spent the past school year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a multi-sport training facility for students of all ages and ability levels.
"If I wanted to keep playing , it was my only opportunity," he said. "It was really pretty much what I had to do."
One of 10 high school graduates in his group, Smith practiced Monday through Friday, played intrasquad games and trained while taking a few classes at a nearby community college. Participants included two of Philadelphia pitcher Jamie Moyer's sons and the son of former major leaguer Lee Mazzilli. The Phillies' left-hander also spoke to the group.
"There were a couple kids from Venezuela," Smith said. "A couple of guys just wanted to get some extra looks, some more playing time. Nobody else was there because of an injury. The experiences I had there absolutely worked. I would absolutely do it again."
Why the ringing endorsement? Smith fared well enough in Florida that Austin Peay and South Alabama both offered scholarships. He recently signed with the Governors and heads to Clarksville, Tenn. next week.
"Trying to play at the Division I level has always been what's on my mind," Smith said. "I never lost that focus. It was what I was always going to do. To have it finally come true, it's a great feeling. It makes it all worth it."
Austin Peay will have two senior catchers on its 2009-10 roster, so Smith will have the opportunity to settle in his first year and vie for a starting spot as a sophomore. He figures on majoring in human health and performance, a logical fit considering his history.
Lessons Smith learned as a baseball junkie helped him get through the down times and arrive at his planned destination.
"Baseball is a game where you are going to fail," he said. "Overcoming those failures, any injuries, isn't going to happen overnight. It's something you've just got to grind out."