ST. PETERSBURG — Lightning goaltender Mike Smith had always dreamed about doing a home run tot.
But until Thursday, he had never hit a baseball (playing only fastpitch softball growing up in Kingston, Ontario). That changed as the Rays, wanting to honor the Lightning's playoff run, invited Smith and teammates Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell and Nate Thompson to hit in batting practice and throw out the first pitch before the game with the Red Sox.
And Smith stole the show.
On his last swing, Smith ripped a homer into the leftfield seats, flipping his bat before running the bases and getting mobbed by Thompson, Purcell and Stamkos at the plate. Purcell then surprised Smith during interviews, smothering a towel filled with whipped cream over his face.
"Dream come true," Smith said. "It felt like butter coming off the bat. I've always wanted to try that. Close my eyes and swung, and it went out. I'm pretty proud."
The Lightning players, dressed in full Rays uniforms, loved the experience, from talking with special adviser Don Zimmer and third baseman Evan Longoria (who requested an opportunity to get on the ice), to getting hitting tips from manager Joe Maddon.
"I don't really know what I'm doing," Purcell said. "So I'm just swinging for the fences."
Stamkos, who played shortstop as a kid, hit a few balls to the warning track. He said the experience made him appreciate how difficult the game is, though Smith made it look easy on his homer.
"That," Maddon said, "was well struck."