Ryan Smith’s two passions of baseball and music may appear to be vastly different at first glance. But whether the Dartmouth pitcher is closing out a one-run ball game or playing a solo classical composition on the piano, there is one huge similarity – all eyes and ears are on Smith in those moments.
The senior right-hander from Greenlawn, N.Y., has been playing baseball since the second grade, but he became hooked on music listening to his mother Laura play piano, and began taking lessons in kindergarten.
Smith’s skills on the piano became better and better, and he began taking composition classes and writing his own music at an early age. His compositions are mostly classical, solo piano music with a little jazz and rock mixed in once in a while these days.
“My love is for composing,” Smith said. “I would write my own piano pieces and submitted them into contests for school. I won a few Long Island and New York statewide composition contests in high school.”
Smith’s musical talents did not go unnoticed by Dartmouth head coach Bob Whalen during the recruiting process.
“I was well aware of his ability, and I actually asked him to submit a piece of his music to the admissions office when he applied out of high school, and he did,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Whalen. “The kid is amazing. I have heard him play. He’s incredibly talented.”
In addition to his prowess on the piano, Smith also played the baritone and trombone in high school. Smith’s musical passion is so great he is minoring in the subject, and continues to practice on his own regularly, although his baseball teammates do not get to hear him play that often.
“Last year, I played for them once at a community project service,” Smith said. “I think they were surprised. You don’t come across too many baseball players that play piano. I guess they were pretty surprised that I played at all.”
Smith’s musical accomplishments are matched by his talents on the mound as he has flourished in the closing role for the Big Green over the last four years.
“I noticed early on his freshman year that he was a very competitive kid, and he had some things that you look for in a reliever,” Whalen said. “He’s got a plus breaking pitch, and a dominant pitch, and he had the ability to throw strikes. Because of his background as a position player, he’s good athletically. He was good at holding runners and good at fielding his position off the mound.”
As a freshman, Smith proved early on that his was a perfect fit for the closer’s job. He compiled a 2-2 record and 2.25 ERA with seven saves in 19 appearances in 2008, earning All-Ivy second team honors.
“We asked him to do something he’d never done before and he really took to it,” Whalen said. “He’s very competitive and very poised, and that translated to his ability to make pitches at the most critical juncture of the game.”
Smith collected an Ivy League single-season record 11 saves in 2009, and led the league in saves with six in 2010. He is also the Ivy League’s all-time leader in saves with a current total of 27.
“I love the pressure,” Smith said. “I think I’ve become really good at pitching in pressure situations. I think at this point I’m at my best under pressure. It’s a role that suits me very well.”
As Dartmouth heads to the postseason this weekend, Smith’s baseball career will come to a close in the foreseeable future. And though the Economics major will probably not play baseball or music professionally after graduating from Dartmouth, the two pursuits will undoubtedly continue to serve a huge role in Smith’s life.
“They’re both something that I do to get away from everything else that’s going on,” Smith said. “Whenever I’m playing baseball or playing the piano, I just really enjoy doing that one thing. I love doing both, and they will be with me the rest of my life.”
Dartmouth is riding an 11-game winning streak into the Ivy Championship Series beginning May 7. The Big Green will travel to play Princeton in a best-of-three series that will decide the Ivy League champion, and winner of the league’s NCAA automatic bid. Dartmouth is the two-time defending Ivy League champion, and will look to become just the second program to win three consecutive titles since the divisional format was created in 1993. Harvard won three consecutive titles in 1997-99. Dartmouth swept a doubleheader against the Tigers earlier this season.