CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Being a “super fan” and going to every possible game is one thing. Being so much of a super fan that the stadium is named after you? That’s another. Bob Smith – nicknamed “Turtle” has not only followed the rise of the Maryland baseball program, he has been a major factor in it.
Maryland plays its home games at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. Smith says the nickname predates his association with Maryland, but it seems like a perfect fit now. He played baseball for the Terrapins from 1960-63, then entered the business world, living in 16 different place. In the late 1980s, he found himself back in Maryland, and he started going to Maryland baseball games.Eventually, Smith got tired of seeing teams that struggled to reach .500, so he met with the then-athletic director Debbie Yow in 2008 to come up with a plan. When he asked her what she was going to do about Maryland using fewer scholarships than other ACC schools were using, she turned the question around on him.
“I said I’m going to give you a fully-endowed baseball scholarship” Smith said, “and you gotta do the other two to get us up to full scholarships. I did, she did.”
There was a slight hiccup in the plan, when head coach Erik Bakich left for Michigan. But John Szefc took over, and has lifted the program to new heights.
“We had a plan since 2009, it’s not necessarily documented in black and white, but it’s here,” Smith said, pointing to his head. “And it’s working. We did it.”
This is a Maryland team that has never made it this far -- in fact, its most recent win at any level of the NCAA tournament before this season was in 1971. The Terps’ win on Saturday was their 40th of the season, a first for the program in what was also its first Super Regional win.
The stadium has been named after Smith since a little bit before the scholarship agreement, and Maryland has made improvements to the park, which is the same park that Smith played on more than 50 years ago. Smith is thankful for that opportunity to play and go to college, which helped launch his successful business career. That is a major driving force for his support of Maryland baseball today.
“I didn’t have the money to go to college, but I played, started, was captain,” Smith said. “But if I don’t get the break, I don’t have what I have today.
“I feel indebted, and I’m glad to give back. I’m into it.”
The run from the Terrapins has brought Smith up and down the east coast. He has attended each of the past 17 games, of which Maryland has won 15. The Terps have played at South Carolina in the Super Regionals, in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and now in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Smith has been there every step of the way.
With a more successful program come a few more dedicated fans. New this season to games at Shipley Field Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium is “The Backstop” -- a student-run baseball fan club. Much in the fashion of the already-established soccer supporter’s club for Maryland, the group attends every home game and makes its presence known.
“This is just fantastic. Words can’t describe -- I’m so pleased.” Smith said. “But it’s the players who are doing the job, and the coaches have just been fantastic.”
Maryland’s section this weekend at Virginia’s Davenport field has been full and vocal. This is a crowd that is taking full advantage of the surprising ride, and it could take them, and Smith, all the way to Omaha.