Indians coach cherishes TV race with daughter
Indians third-base coach Steve Smith never imagined any experience topping the joy of winning a World Series.
Racing around the world with his daughter changed his mind.
The bootful of beer wasn't bad, either.
Four days after he was hired by new Cleveland manager Manny Acta, Smith and his daughter, Allie, embarked on a globe-trotting jaunt as contestants on the popular CBS reality show ``The Amazing Race,'' where teams of two chase a $1 million prize.
For the 57-year-old Smith, a baseball lifer, the chance to bond with his daughter was more fulfilling than winning it all as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies staff in 2008.
``She doesn't want me to say that,'' said Smith, who doubles as Cleveland's infield coach. ``But it was the best thing I've ever done. It was unbelievable.''
Smith was between jobs last fall - he was considering retirement - when Allie, who was a big fan of the hit show and had graduated from Pepperdine, suggested they send in a video audition tape. Smith had watched the program and was intrigued but gave it little thought.
``Being a nice dad, I said, 'Sure, let's put a video in,''' he said. ``We sent it along with 20,000 other people who applied for it, and damn if they didn't pick us. Off we went.''
Smith can't reveal who won the million bucks. He's sworn to secrecy. Even his wife, Angie, doesn't know if the family bank account is about to rise.
He believes the show's producers were intrigued by his big-league background, but were won over by Allie's charm and her message on the tape. Her brother had been the one to share in so many of her father's triumphs. Garrett Smith grew up around the game, spending time as a kid on the field with major league players like Alex Rodriguez and Michael Young. He was even in uniform the night the Phillies beat Tampa Bay in the Series.
Allie wanted her own once-in-a-lifetime moment.
``She said, 'I'm not jealous, but I want an experience with my dad,''' Smith said. ``I want a story.''
She got more than one.
On the show, racers fly to a foreign country, where they must perform various tasks of skill at checkpoints. They are given written clues they must follow, so attention to detail is key. Also, the last team to arrive at a predetermined ``pit stop'' can be eliminated.
In the season's early stages, the teams visited Chile, Argentina, France and Germany, where the Smiths had to a guzzle a giant boot-shaped glass of beer. Smith gladly accepted the challenge.
``It was about a half-gallon,'' Smith said, adding that a few of the other teams weren't able to keep the brew down. ``My daughter said it was the perfect test for me. Everyone knew I would be able to handle that one.''
Acta has watched Smith's TV adventure and joked about his coach's proficiency in the beer challenge.
``That was probably the easiest thing he did on the show,'' Acta said. ``Some of the people struggled. He didn't struggle.''
Smith said his time playing and managing in the minor leagues prepared him for the grueling travel demanded by the show, which is in its 16th season. At stops in Salem, N.C.; Beaumont, Texas; and Wichita, Kan., he learned how to catch a quick nap on a cramped charter.
``I had 20 years in the minors,'' he said. ``I made every ride. Baseball is a grind, you play 162 games. My daughter used to come and see me every summer, so she was used to traveling, too. We were perfect.''
The nonstop racing challenges the competitors' endurance, intellect and camaraderie. It's not unusual to see feuds among teams - husbands and wives, brothers, sisters or best friends.
``They want you at your worst, so there were times when we went 30 hours without sleeping,'' he said. ``They make it tough, mentally and physically.''
The Smiths made lifelong friends on the show. Smith recently hosted Cord McCoy, a rodeo cowboy from Oklahoma who competed with his brother, Jet, to the Indians' training complex. Cord dressed in an Indians uniform, sat in the dugout during a game and showed off his batting stroke.
``He's got a good swing,'' Smith said. ``That kid is a riot.''
Before filming on the show began, Smith said he feared he would do something that would embarrass himself or his family. He wanted to keep a low profile, which he knew would be impossible while being seen by millions of viewers every Sunday night.
``Third-base coaches are like umpires, we don't want to be known,'' he said. ``If people know who you are, then you've probably done something wrong. I was like, 'Oh no, people are going to watch this.' Then I painted the wrong house and made a few other mistakes. I laughed at myself.''
Smith said the experience has made he and Allie closer. They always shared a special connection, but it has since grown thanks to the race.
``It was never about the money,'' he said. ``It was enjoying the ride together. It's right there with the World Series, maybe better because I was with my daughter.''