Smiley walks on at UALR

BENTON – Former Benton Panthers pitcher Zack Smiley will be staying close to home when he continues his education past the high school level. On Tuesday, Smiley signed his intent to walk on with the University of Arkansas Little Rock Trojans at Benton Arena.

“I figured it was the best opportunity to play,” Smiley started. “It’s a good school to get my education and it’s a great program for my future.”

Smiley’s father, Dan, said Zack is following his dream.

“His dream was always to play baseball and he grew into to be tall enough,” Dan Smiley said. “He has good velocity and good mechanics. [UALR] Coach Chris Curry says he has a lot of potential and he hopes to make the 35-man roster this spring. If not, he’ll just redshirt him and he’ll be able to play all through the summer and be on the team next year as well.”

Dan Smiley said his son will travel during the summer to get training, possibly to New York, Alaska or Kansas.

“[Zack] has a lot of potential,” Benton High School Coach Mark Balisterri said. “He’s a big athletic guy, has a strong arm, and if he gets with a guy that is with him every day (focusing on pitching) when he starts school until the baseball season’s over with, hopefully it will make a big difference for him. If it clicks for him, he’s going to do a great job.

“UALR has a good baseball program, they have a really, really good coach coming in. He’s had head-coaching stints at Northwestern, Arkansas, Arkansas Tech, head coach at Meridian (Miss.)for two years, he’s a great guy and is going to give good direction.”

Smiley’s little league coach Mickey Davis, who coached Smiley starting at 6-years-old, said his attitude will carry him as far as he wants to go.

“By far, of all the kids I’ve had over 400 to 500 kids, the best kid and easiest kid to coach,” Davis said of Smiley. “It was always a treat. Even when he was mad, he never had anything bad to say. His attitude was awesome. If he takes that attitude, the sky’s the limit. The ability is there. He just has to get that arm figured out. His attitude is going to carry him a long way.”

Smiley struggled a bit with location during the summer in American Legion play, but his Legion coach, Brandon Wake, said he saw improvement.

“I only had him for about 40 games this summer,” Wake said, “but it was a great pleasure having him on the team. I’ve seen him make strides.”

Smiley said he is going to major in education to become a teacher and a coach. Though he didn’t play a lot during the high school season, he’s ready for his future.

“I didn’t get to play much here (Benton High School), but I was shown even if you don’t get to play, work hard and persevere and just work through that. Keep working hard and you can do whatever you want to do.”