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Smith brothers go from gridiron to diamond at Armwood

In a game against Newsome High early in the season, an Armwood player was hit in the midsection by a fastball. No big deal, right? The Armwood player never made a threatening move toward the pitcher, but his glare said it all.

"(Newsome's coach) got up and yelled, 'Whoa, big fella, take it easy,' " Armwood coach Mike Wrenn said.

When you're arguably one of Hillsborough County's hardest hitting players ever — in football, that is — that type of response is warranted.

Petey Smith sauntered unremarkably to first base, but his presence on the baseball team, along with older brother Eric, is anything but usual. Area fans know Armwood's Smith brothers for their contributions to the Hawks' football program, but now they have another sport to conquer.

"I'd heard that they could play (baseball)," Wrenn said. "But for them to come out (for the team) was somewhat of a surprise."

That's because neither of the Smiths had set foot on a baseball field during their high school careers.

Eric, a running back who has signed with Auburn, was one of the most sought-after senior prospects in the country this season. Petey, a junior who hasn't chosen a college yet, forged his name on county football fields as

a linebacker.

So why did the Smith brothers try baseball now?

"We always played every sport when we were kids whether it was basketball, baseball … whatever," Eric said. "With this being my last year, I talked with Petey and we decided together to stay busy by playing baseball (during the spring)."

While it's not all that uncommon for star high school athletes to play more than one sport, it's somewhat unusual for two of the best football players in the county to pick up a sport they haven't played since, well …

"We last played ball when I was like 15 and Petey was 14," Eric said. "It's been a minute."

Wrenn had been putting the bug in the Smith brothers' ears since the beginning of the school year. Any time he saw them in the hall or around the athletic complex, Wrenn dropped a hint.

"I'd heard they wanted to concentrate on football (last year) but that they were more interested this season," Wrenn said.

Armwood players, knowing the brothers' reputation from Little League, had been trying to get them to play for years. Due to what was described as "differences" with Armwood's former coach, the Smiths didn't bite. When Wrenn took over before last season, their attitude began to shift.

"I'd played AAU with some guys I kept seeing in the paper and I knew I could run with them," Petey said. "I brushed it off when they asked me before this year, but we heard good things about coach Wrenn, so my mom said to give it a try."

So far, so good.

Eric has found a home in left field while Petey has settled in as the Hawks' designated hitter. Intangibles, Wrenn said, are the brothers strong suit.

"They both have such a great feel for the game," Wrenn said. "Their instincts are second to none and even though they haven't played (baseball) in awhile, their instinct and athletic ability make up for it."

Petey displayed that and more in the season opener, cracking a grand slam against Tampa Bay Tech. Eric has played well for the 3-1 Hawks, who host Brandon at 7 tonight. And should a game of football break out?

"Oh, God, we'd be in good shape," Wrenn chuckled. "If that happens, there's no team in the county that will beat us."

Smith brothers go from gridiron to diamond at Armwood 02/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:00am]
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