Rahkeem Smith of Visions Select leads off first in the fifth inning, prepared to steal second and third.
By Rich Bevensee
Rahkeem Smith can see the end of his baseball career just around the corner. But that doesn’t mean he’s done with his first love anytime soon.
Smith, who recently completed his freshman year at Delaware State where he was recruited for football and track, has the speed and skills to be a difference-maker on the baseball field. And that makes Smith exactly the kind of player Visions Select Baseball coach Raoul Edwards loves having on his roster.
Utilizing his speed in the outfield and on the bases, Smith singled and scored twice and drove in a run to lead Visions, based in Baltimore city, to a 7-4, five-inning victory over Philadelphia Stars Red in 17/18U pool play of the Home Run Classic Powered by Victus on Saturday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“Speed makes people a little more anxious, more nervous,” Smith said. “Even if you hit a dribbler to second base, when you’re running down to first base it gives them a sense of urgency and they might mess it up.”
Indeed, team speed played a major part in why Visions was able to sweep its Saturday morning doubleheader and position itself for a tournament title. It defeated Delmarva College Prospects, 8-1, in an earlier game.
Visions Select faced Philadelphia Reds on Sunday (2:15 p.m.) in a big pool play game.
“Our motto is pressure busts pipes,” Edwards said. “We keep pressure on them and we see if they can make the plays. We pretty much controlled both games, just by being athletic. I think our speed proved to be something a little bit much for them (the Stars), and we hit the ball today. That’s what we try to do. We’re blessed with some good speed, but we can play baseball, too. If we can get a couple of those errors out of there, I think we’re gonna be okay.”
The game with the Stars was a dogfight out of the gate, with both teams scoring three runs in their first at bat.
In the top of the second, Edwards received a lift from the bottom of the order, when No. 10 hitter Daniel Beverly dropped a two-run single behind first base to give Visions a 5-3 lead. And when Rashid McLeod was caught in a rundown between first and second, Beverly alertly scored from third for a 6-3 lead.
The Stars cut into their deficit in the bottom of the second when David Rivas crushed an RBI double into the left field corner. It was the only extra base hit of the game.
In the top of the fifth, Visions picked up an insurance run thanks to – what else? – speed. Smith beat out an infield single, stole second and third, and scored with two outs on a wild pitch for a 7-4 lead.
To the Stars’ credit, they brought the tying run to the plate when Michael Spina singled and Bryan Dedmon earned a two-out walk. But fifth-inning reliever Venainh Lawrence shut down any thoughts of a dramatic comeback with a game-ending strikeout.
And speaking of pitching, Visions received a whale of a relief effort from Derick Thompson, who entered with two out in the first inning after the Stars had tied the game at 3-3 against starter John Flynn.
Thompson got a strikeout to end that frame, and pitched one-hit ball over his next three innings using primarily a fastball mixed with a curve, change and slider. He allowed three walks and struck out seven.
“He’s one of our dogs,” Edwards said of Thompson. “When he’s on, he’s on. He’s got an awkward delivery but he can be deceptive as well.”
“My job is just to be a dog and throw strikes,” said Thompson, who recently graduated from Randallstown High (Maryland) and is headed for California Post Grad, a gap year program in Palm Desert, Calif. “I like being in pressure situations when the team needs me. Doesn’t bother me at all.”
Like Thompson, Smith will use the summer to prepare for the demands of being a college student-athlete. But he deems his athletic future uncertain because, while Delaware State wants the rising sophomore for football and track, baseball still burns bright in his heart.
For Smith, the Visions program represents a second chance to play baseball. He left the baseball program at Calvert Hall in Towson, Md. after his junior season in order to run track his senior year and honor Delaware State’s request following their scholarship offer.
“Baseball has been my first love ever since I was 4,” Smith said. “I recently had to choose between football, baseball and track. I didn’t really choose not to play baseball, but I had money to play football and track.
“Giving up baseball was very hard. I had conversations with my parents and a lot of tears were shed, but ultimately that was the choice. But now? Right now I’m feeling baseball. I don’t know if this summer is it, for me and baseball. I don’t think I’m done. Not yet.”
For the Stars, Spina went 2-for-3 and drove in a run, and Scott Aaronson had a sacrifice fly. Nirel Woodson lasted 1⅓ innings and allowed six runs on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts. Jay Perez pitched 3 ⅔ innings and allowed one run on one hit with two hit batters and two strikeouts.
The Stars have a doubleheader on tap for Sunday, playing DCP 18U Select at 4:30 p.m. and the Philadelphia Reds at 6:30 p.m.