Since his father Harold introduced him to pitching as a 16 year old on the Roots some 42 years ago, Neville “Sheep’ Smith has bided his time, learned the art and over the years, stamped his name among the territory’s pitching greats.
Now that he’s reached the end of the road, Smith told Island Sun Sports that while he’s retiring from pitching, his aim is to give back to the sport in which he has represented the territory in several major regional championships and games.
“I’m not going to leave the sport and not leave something behind,” Smith said. “I’m going to see if I can get some of the older pitchers—going back to Bert “Big Man” Henley—and will try to get him to make one or two appearances, showing how he used to throw his riser. I want to see how we can capture what we had and bring it back to softball. The last couple games we had, I’d never seen so many people at softball yet. I’m very happy to see it’s coming back and I want to help bring it back.”
Smith said it was a good year and commended the Virgin Islands Softball Baseball Association, who he said did a great job and took his hat off to them. He also cited the addition of new umpires and added that the public relations work wasn’t bad.
“I’m pleased to see how it’s going and we have hope,” he said. “It’s the national sport and I’m going to ensure whatever I can do to help improve softball, I’m going to do it.”
Smith said his plan is to have a pitching camp and also plan to visit various schools and look at teaching pitching. He said he’d like to identify 5-6 boys and 5-6 girls from each school who are willing to learn about pitching and will schedule time to ensure it happens.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, but that’s what I want to do, whether it’s on weekends, because that’s the only way that it’s going to work,” he said. “When somebody looks at me who has been a dominant pitcher in the BVI, they might listen to me, so I think now is the time to do it, while the hype is there, I want to try and do it now.”
Reflecting on the championship series with his Pirates and Power Outage, from his experience, Smith said it doesn’t matter how many pitches you have, but rather, the location of the ball. He said if a pitcher doesn’t have a riser, they can still try to throw the ball up high in certain areas or it can be thrown inside or outside.
“The advantage I have now is that if I want to move the ball up high, I can make it move higher with the riser. If I want it to go outside, it can go further outside with a curveball—that’s the only difference there—but still, at the end of the day, when a batter is batting, if he’s giving you the plate and you go inside on him, it will be a ball. If it goes over the plate and you think he can reach it but it goes outside. It’s all about thinking. Look at the mentality of the player. If he is hungry, he wants to hit a home run so give him a changeup. It’s a mind game when you’re pitching.”
Smith said one of the things I’ve learned from Henley, is when you have a man down, keep him down, no matter what. “And that took me through the whole league,” he pointed out. “If I have you down, I’m going to keep you down. If I see you can’t hit something, I’m going to keep it on you until you prove that you can hit it. That was my strategy throughout the whole league.”
When asked why after all these years, guys were unable to hit his pitches, Smith said it’s about pitching smart as the guys are trying to ‘kill the ball.’
“I always say, that the person who has the bat can hit the ball—it’s you as the pitcher not to throw the ball to the bat—but try to outthink them when they’re batting, that’s how I pitch,” he explained. “I don’t think I can strike out everybody, but if they want to strike out themselves, that’s up to them. But, I’m going to try and get you out.”