ORACLE PARK — San Francisco Giants closer Smith used to hate classic rock. When the family would pile into the car for summer vacations to Panama City or Disneyworld, Smith’s father Harry gave every member of the family a chance to put a CD in. Harry would inevitably choose Pink Floyd.
“I’m listening to Pink Floyd for basically the whole car ride because their songs are 30 minutes long,” Smith said in the Giants clubhouse earlier this month. “I’m like, ‘That sucks. Come on, change the song.’”
As he got older and started going to watch his uncle, Allen Windam, play bass in his cover band, he started to think this music thing was “kind of cool.” Still, Smith said, “I never had a musical bone in my body.”
After picking up his own guitar helped in his rehab from Tommy John, Smith has not only connected with music, but came to share his father’s love for classic rock. It’s only fitting that, as almost certainly the only All-Star on a punchless San Francisco club, he’ll likely soon head to Cleveland — home of the Rock’N’Roll Hall of Fame — for the Midsummer Classic.
“You just appreciate it. Just didn’t know until I tried it,” Smith said. “Once you tried it, you realize, these guys (rock stars) are really good. They’re blessed to do this just like we’re blessed to play baseball.”
It wasn’t until just before he snapped his ulnar collateral ligament in March of 2017 that Smith had started tooling around on a non-descript acoustic six-string. As his first post-operative checkup in Los Angeles ended, he asked the surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAtrache, if he could pick the guitar up again during his long rehab.
Despite being a lefty on the mound, Smith, 29, plays the guitar right-handed, meaning his surgically-repaired left elbow does most of the tough fingering work. To Smith’s surprise, ElAtrache encouraged him.
“He said, ‘If anything, that’ll be good for you, with all the muscles in your hand and forearms,’” Smith said.
Fourteen weeks later, he got the go-ahead. As Smith rehabbed over the next 10 months, his guitar was his constant companion as he used it to strengthen the muscles in his forearm.
Now, it’s a rare day when he won’t strum out a few bars, either in his apartment, in clubhouse or elsewhere in the team complex underneath the stands. He tries to spend 15 minutes plucking away every day, and takes the guitar on most road trips. He makes sure Dereck Rodriguez — who has the room next to him on the road — isn’t bothered by his practicing. “You just never know with hotel walls,” he said.
He waits patiently for his girlfriend to leave their apartment before jamming.
“When she goes to the grocery store or something, I’ll pull it out and crush it as long as I can,” he said.
It’s not always as pretty as one of his saves.
“I’ll be sweating. I get mad at myself. I’ll start screaming and cussing,” Smith said.
Ultimately, Smith just wants to be able to play competently around a campfire, but there was an unexpected bonus in his practicing: Over the course of his rehab, he began to understand why his dad loved classic rock.
“We’ll listen to the Led Zeppelin, the Pink Floyd’s, the Eagles and Bob Seger and all that stuff,” Smith said. “Now that I’m learning to play the guitar, I look up some of the songs, and you have so much more respect and appreciation for those guys, because that stuff they do is not easy at all. It’s really freakin’ hard.”
Last fall, when Smith and a group of childhood friends made a boys’ trip out to Cleveland to see the Atlanta Falcons play the Browns, Harry excitedly phoned his son and asked if they were going to hit up the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. He himself had never been. The group woke up early and got there as soon as it opened, spending an all-too-brief half a day there. Smith took photos of Led Zeppelin memorabilia and texted them to his dad.
“We kind of got rushed through it,” Smith said. “There’s just so much stuff there to do. So many exhibitions.”
One of the exhibitions covered the history of guitars, including Les Paul’s first crack at an electric: A metal wire stretched lengthwise on a two-foot section of traintrack called The Rail.
“How it was built, the railroad post, I saw that one,” Smith said. “It was crazy … Now, look at them. They’re $1,000 guitars now, and this guy made one out of a railroad tie. It’s pretty cool how far they’ve come.”
Should Smith be headed back to the city as an All-Star — leading the fourth-best bullpen in the Majors with a career-best 1.95 ERA and 21 saves in 21 chances, it’s a near lock he will — he’s bringing his dad to the Rock Hall.
“I’m sure my dad and family will be up there, so I’d try and sneak off and take pops up there,” Smith said. “I’m sure my mom would go too, but it’s more of a father-son thing, with the classic rock and stuff like that.”