Tanner Smith was back home in Arizona working in the weight room and batting cages after helping Oregon State make a deep run in the NCAA baseball tournament.
Ryan Stafford was in California putting the final touches on his recovery after a broken foot this spring cost him about half the season at Cal Poly.
Both arrived in Corvallis in mid-July with plenty of time to make an impact as the Knights headed down the home stretch of the summer wood-bat season.
Smith and Stafford have added some much-needed depth at catcher for the Knights, who have had some injuries to players behind the plate as they pursue a sixth consecutive West Coast League baseball title.
“To be able to add Tanner Smith and what was an injured Ryan Stafford was a really a shot in the arm for our team, a shot in both arms,” Corvallis coach Brooke Knight said. “Those guys are both tremendous people and good players that can really catch and throw and add value to the team. Those two late adds didn’t hurt us a bit.”
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The offensive numbers alone produced by them demonstrate the value they’ve provided.
Stafford, who will be a sophomore this fall in San Luis Obispo, was batting .405 with two doubles, 10 RBIs, seven walks, four sacrifices and four stolen bases in 13 games through Thursday’s play. Smith was hitting .167 with two home runs and eight RBIs, also in 13 games.
Both had some big hits during the Knights’ recent 18-game winning streak (16 of those in league play) that pushed Corvallis to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which got started Wednesday.
The Knights’ final regular-season home game at Goss Stadium is Saturday night versus Ridgefield. Their first postseason home contest will be Wednesday, Aug. 10.
It was the plan all along for Smith, a sophomore at Oregon State this fall, to join the Knights for a second straight summer. It just worked out that he got back to town a little later than originally expected.
This past spring, Smith batted .232 with three homers, eight doubles and 13 RBIs in 31 games (24 starts) as a backup to Gavin Logan, who last week signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being taken in the ninth round of last month’s Major League Baseball draft.
Having been with the Knights last summer, Smith knew what the organization was all about. The 2021 season got him headed in the right direction as he jumped into Division I baseball for the first time last fall.
“It was a very easy decision for me to join this squad,” he said. “I knew that they were going to put together a good team, which they have right now, so it was fun to come back.”
Added Smith: “You definitely put in more work than a lot of summer ball teams. Our coaches do a good job of getting us ready for early work, before we go out for (batting practice) and stretch. Yuni (assistant coach Youngjin Yoon) does a great job with the pitchers, getting them going. They usually start about two hours before we get BP going, and hitters are usually about two hours before in the cage.
“We really want to win, and the coaches are all about winning. I feel like it’s a really good step for incoming guys, or guys that are going to the DI level, to get them going.”
Stafford learned about the Knights experience from Cal Poly teammates and former Corvallis players Taison Corio and Brooks Lee. Lee, a former West Coast League MVP, was taken eighth overall in this year’s MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Stafford said he’s having a good time so far as part of an energy-infused, close-knit team. His goals for the summer season were to improve all aspects of his game and make some new friends.
“We’re so tight as a team and we work so hard together. We improve individually but we’re also as good as a team, playing team baseball. Picking each other up, having each other’s backs,” Stafford said. “So far what I’ve noticed with these guys is, we call it being sticky. We’re super tight and just playing with a lot of passion and love for each other. I think that’s what makes it so special.”
Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can connect with him on Twitter: @JesseSowaGT.