LIVONIA – Former Livonia academic and athlete Justin Smith was due to be inducted into the RIT Sports Hall of Fame last week.
His grandfather Jack ‘Papa’ Smith, as he did throughout Justin’s outstanding baseball career, was reportedly seated in the front row.
Unfortunately, due to the covid, the RIT canceled this year’s ceremony.
The RIT Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1968-69, when the campus moved from downtown Rochester to its current location in Henrietta.
The purpose is to honor former athletes, coaches, administrators, teams and others who have made significant contributions to RIT Intercollegiate Athletics.
This year’s inductees included 10 former Tigers, who have enjoyed success both on and off the field including Smith (baseball), Andy Demetres (lacrosse), Michael W. Dempsey track), Julie (Gibbs) Heuer (volleyball), Sandy (Southworth) Jackson (football), Todd Paulauskas (basketball), Isabelle Richard (hockey), Ronald S. Ricotta (distinguished services and wrestling), Mike Tarantino (hockey) and Shelby Vakiener ’14 (lacrosse , soccer and basketball).
Justin graduated from 2011 at RIT.
He won the 2011 All-American CoSIDA / Capital One First Academic Team honors – selections based on a combination of academic and athletic excellence.
Smith, a biomedical science graduate, posted an excellent cumulative grade point average of 3.90.
Smith only became RIT baseball’s second Academic All-American, joining Ryan Tryt (Fulton) in 2007 and 2008.
“Justin is the hardest working student-athlete I have ever coached,” said RIT baseball coach Rob Grow. “I couldn’t be happier for Justin. He embodies everything great about the RIT baseball program.
Smith has had an incredible senior season for the Tigers, playing and starting all 35 games at centerfield, while serving as the first hitter. He led the team with a batting average of .393, with the best team totals of 65 total bases, 53 hits, 29 runs scored and 21 steals. In addition, Smith contributed five doubles, two triples, one homerun and 21 RBIs.
Smith ended his career as RIT’s all-time leader with 63 career bases stolen.
In the 2009 season, he tied the single-season record stealing 23 goals.
Smith is in the all-time top five at RIT with 160 hits, 115 runs scored and 200 total goals.
He has been selected for All-Empire 8 three times, winning second-team honors in 2009 and first-team honors in 2010 and 2011.
Smith was also an outstanding baseball player at Livonia High School under the guidance of head coach Scott Gilman.
Smith was the team’s shortstop in some very competitive seasons for the Bulldogs.
His two younger cousins, John and Jake Smith, became standout multisport athletes in Livonia.
John was an integral part of Livonia’s 2017 NYS Class B State Title Team while Jake was a two-time Section V football champion for the Bulldogs.
Like Justin, John and Jake were also the shortstops and top hitters in the roster.
“When Justin approached me in his sophomore year, he told me he wanted to play shortstop,” recalls Coach Gilman. “I said Justin can you get the throw through the diamond at first base? We tried and he struggled. He later told me, “I’ll be playing shortstop for my first year. During the offseason, he put in time and effort to make that big leap. He came much stronger and I knew straight away that he would be our SS for the next two years. Justin has had a fantastic career in high school, leading the team in hits and stolen goals. He was a great attacking hitter and very gentle in the SS. He was our leader and certainly set an example. Justin has always put time and effort into being the best player he can be. He has a great personality and you can tell he was well brought up by his parents and grandfather, Jack Smith. Jack was instrumental in the development of Justin, John and Jake. All three players have always been fundamentally healthy because Jack has always emphasized the importance of fundamentally healthy baseball. All three of them have been a pleasure to train. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Justin is inducted into the RIT Sports Hall of Fame for baseball and academics.
Justin is currently completing his training at the University of Michigan / CS Mott Children’s Hospital to become a Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Physician.
“I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to care for critically ill children with complex heart conditions,” said Justin. “My job is the ultimate team sport and I use the lessons I have learned through athletics on a daily basis. Outside of work, my amazing wife, Whitney, and I are busy reigning in the chaos that is raising our three year old daughter and nine month old son. My wife and kids are now an integral part of my team and I couldn’t do what I do without their love and support. “
Justin and the Smith family were born to play baseball.
Papa Jack led Rush Henrietta to their only Section V title to date in 1990, defeating Hilton in the Class AAA final at Silver Stadium.
A three-year-old Justin was at this game.
Since then, he has continued to love baseball.
“Baseball is a game that takes patience,” said Justin. “For me, the love of the game grew over time as I came to understand the skills and strategy that unfold in each game. Becoming a parent allowed me to think about how of which baseball and track and field are part of my fundamental experiences with my dad and dad. I hope I can one day create similar memories for my own children.
Justin was instrumental in the incredible Livonia baseball run which has since carried the Bulldogs to seven Section V championships, including his 2007 Section title team which finished with Livonia in the State Quarterfinals. . From 2014 to 2017, Livonia won four section titles, two state final appearances and one NYS title (2017).
All three Smith boys were All-State in baseball.
“Coach Gilman and the other coaches have given me great mentorship in baseball and life and have helped me succeed on the field,” said Justin. “They led us to a section title based on the individual strengths of each player, but what I remember most is the team. There is a shared experience in high school athletics that binds a team like no other. There are so many great memories, and most of them are from the great people and personalities who made our team. We recently lost one of our teammates, who was far too young. The memories of athletics in high school will be among those that will mark me the most. “
RIT’s all-time best base thief ever cherished his playing days for Coach Grow and the Tigers. Much of what he learned at Livonia, bonds with his teammates and fond memories, he also took away after his playing years in college.
“Again, through mentorship and leadership, Coach Grow and the coaching staff helped shape the player and the person I would become,” said Justin. “The community built by the team, both on and off the pitch, is unforgettable. While individual accomplishments are often the ones recognized, none of my successes would have been possible without the competition, camaraderie and contributions of all my teammates.
Playing baseball while studying biomedical sciences certainly had its challenges with time constraints, but Justin dug and succeeded, to graduate with college honors on graduation day.
The words “student-athlete” fit Justin perfectly, and he’s never known any other way.
“My mom was a teacher who always valued education a lot,” Justin said. “She helped spread the word that school was not just a ‘back-up plan’ in case professional athletics didn’t work. I don’t think I’ve always been okay with this, but I guess I have to admit that I finally understood her point and I’m grateful that she did.
And finally, let’s get back to that relationship Justin had with Papa – Jack Smith, one of the greatest baseball spirits this region has ever known.
He is, without a doubt, Justin’s number one fan, and although he will not be the focus of the RIT Hall of Fame banquet this year, he will be forever on his mind.
“I could fill a book with the lessons I learned from Dad,” Justin said. “He fostered the lessons many of us learn in athletics – teamwork, dedication, commitment, hard work and passion, but there is a unique experience shared between Jack Smith’s grandchildren. None of us can forget the sound of a moan and Papa’s score book slamming on his knee as you watch the first strike, in the middle, go by without a swing. It’s a subtle thing that others might miss in the chaos of the game, but it’s a gesture I’ve always heard. I think it is associated with an action mindset. To me that means putting aside your fear of the opportunity before you – if it’s right and you want it – go for it! I think about this lesson almost every day.