Every baseball player has a story of what made him fall in love with the game, a player who was his favorite as a kid and the struggle it took to reach the professional level. The story of Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Devin Smeltzer is a bit more unique.
Diagnosed with cancer at age 9, the New Jersey native said that as he recovered, playing baseball was one of the few things that gave him a sense of normalcy. That passion for baseball led him to be part of a meet-and-greet with members of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, when he was 10 years old.
Among the stars he met was then-Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, who signed an autograph for Smeltzer that day, and a picture was snapped of that moment.
"The picture of me and Chase has been in the living room for a long time," said the 22-year-old Smeltzer, who is now cancer-free. "When I go back home, it's always very humbling to see that picture because of where I'm at today."
Where he is today is the Dodgers organization, the same one that employs Utley. During spring training, the team organized a reunion that caught the veteran infielder off-guard.
"It's a pretty special and unique story with Devin," Utley said after the two were reunited in the middle of the team's clubhouse. "I had the opportunity to meet him when he was 10 years old, battling cancer. I can't even imagine what he was going through, what his parents were going through. And to see him beat cancer, to see ... his ability take over and allow him to play baseball for a living."
Selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by the Dodgers, the left-handed Smeltzer went 7-7 with a 4.17 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 142? innings last season, which he split between the team's Rancho Cucamonga and Great Lakes affiliates.
"He's in the Dodgers farm system, and from what I hear, he's got a lot of upside," Utley said. "Hopefully at some point he'll be pitching here at Dodger Stadium."
Smeltzer, who said former Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels also was a big influence on him as a kid, admitted that it was "humbling" to address the Dodgers clubhouse and show what kind of impact players can have beyond the diamond.
"A lot of these guys, they're living the dream, and just showing them that there's more to life than just baseball," Smeltzer said. "Everybody's struggles are different, and just being able to use their platform to give back and help anybody, whether it's my type of situation or anything else."