At 10-1, the Pine Bluff Braves are off to another fast start in semi-professional baseball.
And while player/manager Winfred Smith won’t give away any secrets, how the Braves win seems so simple.
“Guys are doing what needs to be done, taking advantage of other team’s weaknesses,” Smith said. “That’s the biggest thing, being real observant.”
The hot start follows up a 27-5 finish from last year that included the third 18-0 start in team history. The Braves have never started 19-0.
“You get some good baseball minds around and mix in a few veterans like Corey McCoy, they share some of those things they know,” Smith said. “You don’t necessarily have to throw signs or things and things that look conventional. There are certain things that we do, and we just don’t give away all our secrets, but you exploit other team’s weaknesses. You manufacture runs, lay the ball down and sacrifice when you see it’s there, a suicide squeeze or whatever. “The main objective is to win the ballgame. The pitching just goes along with it, so it disheartens the other team.”
Strong pitching is a staple in the Braves’ program. Deonta Howard, who plays at Central Baptist College in Conway, is 3-0 on the season with an earned-run average of less than 1.00 in four appearances, according to Smith. “He’s a no-nonsense baseball player,” Smith said. “He plays pitcher and shortstop, plays at CBC. He brings a lot to the table. He’s one of those guys who has a lot of team pride.”
Smith said the team pride is contagious among the Braves, many of whom have played on the team for about five years, Smith said.
One of his veterans, Sebastian Stargell Sr., has played with the team since 1991 and also sees time on the mound. McCoy, a former Pine Bluff High standout, is a base-stealing machine for the Braves. The four-time team MVP who, according to Smith, has been drafted three times by MLB teams, holds the team record of 78 stolen bases in a season.
Then, there’s Smith himself, the seemingly ageless player and manager who’s in his 40th season holding both roles.
His dream is the carry the Braves deep into postseason play, including a run in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Kansas. The Braves have been there four times.
“It will be like a dream if we can win one of the qualifiers in regionals and go into the nationals and really catch fire, send some people to the house,” Smith said. “I’d love to stand there and let them throw water on me because we won a championship. I’d just hold my head to the heavens and just let them splash me.”
The Braves’ season will continue at 3:30 p.m. Sunday with a rematch against the England All-Stars. Pine Bluff defeated England this past Sunday at Regional Park for the All-Stars’ first loss since July 3, 2011.