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Right at home: Decatur catcher shines despite rare trait

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, May 11, 2019
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Beating the Odds

BEATING THE ODDS – Decatur junior J.T. Smith is one of Class 4A’s best catchers despite being left-handed. Smith has helped the Lady Eagles to a 25-5 record and leads the Lady Eagles at the plate with a .553 average. Messenger photo by Reece Waddell

J.T. Smith has gotten used to the stares, questions and funny reactions through the years.

Since second grade, she has been behind the plate, stopping pitches in the dirt and throwing out runners. The Decatur junior is one of the best catchers in 4A, but Smith still hears the same phrase occasionally: “She’s a lefty?!”

Left-handed catchers are uncommon in softball and practically extinct in baseball. The stigma surrounding southpaw catchers is prevalent, and Smith said she’s heard it all.

“I’m definitely [underestimated],” Smith said. “People told me it’s not really possible to be a left-handed catcher in college, that I would have to learn other positions. It’s pretty fun when people ask, ‘you’re left-handed?’ It’s fun to see their reactions.”

In the Right Place

IN THE RIGHT PLACE – Decatur junior J.T. Smith has been left-handed for as long as she can remember and started catching in second grade. This season, Smith boasts a 0.982 fielding percentage to go along with 250 putouts. Messenger photo by Reece Waddell

The .553 hitter, who leads the Lady Eagles in average, only does one thing with her right hand.

“Throw a Frisbee,” Smith joked. “I’ve been left-handed in everything I’ve ever done.”

Smith’s softball career started as an outfielder and pitcher. Her first experience at putting on the mask happened on a whim.

“My rec coach asked if anyone wanted to catch this inning, and I wanted to,” Smith said. “It just stuck.”

Once she realized catching was where she was meant to be, Smith soon ran into the roadblocks associated with being left-handed. Even getting a catcher’s mitt proved to be a challenge.

Smith said many stores only sell a handful of left-handed gloves, and finding a catcher’s mitt is rare.

“There’s no one that has them,” Smith said. “They have a few in stock but not very many left-handed mitts. If you want one, you have to customize it. Even in the stores when you’re looking for a regular left-handed glove there aren’t very many.”

Aside from getting the proper equipment, Smith has also adjusted her style of play to accommodate her left-handedness.

Throws that are routine for right-handed catchers are anything but for Smith, who has to contort her body. She has also had to work on framing pitches.

“Blocking is a big challenge,” Smith said. “It’s hard to get around the ball a different way. Throwing to third base you have to angle yourself. Usually I just have to be really quick and stand up if I have to. Making a good throw is the most important thing.”

Even with those challenges, she’s shined. Her fielding percentage is a staggering 0.982 to go along with 250 putouts. She loves to flash her left arm strength.

“Last year when we played Bonham [in the region quarterfinals], they had a leadoff slapper and they tried to steal,” Smith said. “I got her out, and she was really fast. That was the best feeling.”

At the plate, Smith boasts a .988 slugging percentage to go along with her four home runs and 25 RBIs. She credits her success to an extensive support system, consisting of family, friends, coaches and her teammates.

“I think [the success] is because of the people I have behind me,” Smith said. “Wherever I throw the ball they’re going to catch it. My ball has a funny spin and a curve. I have complete faith in them.

“Coach [Carly] Cloud and Coach [Marcus] Grgurich are completely supportive. My select coach has complete faith in me behind the plate.”

Smith said Western Texas College has shown interest in her. But after some have told her being a left-handed catcher in college was not possible, Smith received some reassurance last summer.

As she watched the 2018 NCAA Women’s College World Series, Smith noticed Washington’s catcher, Emma Helm, who is also a lefty. While left-handed collegiate catchers are not the norm, Smith knows playing at the next level is not impossible.

She’s seen it firsthand.

“[Helm] did a lot of stuff like how I do it. It made me feel like, ‘OK, I’m doing something right,'” Smith said. “Sometimes I used to feel [out of position], but now that I’ve gotten more confidence – it’s my home back there.”

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