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Stone Crabs manager Jeff Smith feels at home with Rays organization

Jeff Smith had his long-awaited cup of coffee in the big leagues. Now he said, he’s ready to be “back at home” in the minors for a while.

Smith, who spent the the last two seasons on Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor’s coaching staff, was named as manager of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Tampa Bay Rays High-A affiliate in the Florida State League.

“With the Florida State League I get to do all the things I love to do,” he said. “I get to manage baseball, I get to teach baseball and my family gets to see me a lot more while I’m doing it.”

A native of Naples, just south of Charlotte Sports Park, the spring training home of the Rays where the Stone Crabs also play their regular season games, Smith was excited for the opportunity to be able to sleep in his own bed at night and see more of his sons Cooper, 16, and Cutter, 12.

“When I told them I had an opportunity to coach in Port Charlotte, you could tell from the look in there eyes, you could see how excited they were that dad was going to be around all the time again,” Smith said. “They were very excited and when you get that opportunity to teach and manage baseball, and to do it where you get to see your family a lot, there were so many plusses to that equation.

“I’m very fortunate.”

After playing collegiately with Stetson University in Deland, Smith was a 20th-round pick by the Twins in the 1995 amateur draft. He spent nine seasons in the the minor leagues for the Twins, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox organizations — including six seasons at the AAA level. A lifetime .282 hitter in the minors, he decided to trade his catcher’s mitt for a fungo bat and started his coaching career as the hitting instructor for the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2005.

This will be Smith’s third stint in the Florida State League. Smith previously served as manager for the Fort Myers Miracle, the Twin’s High-A affiliate, in 2008-09 and again in 2015-16. He was named the FSL Manger of the Year in 2009.

Although he never reached the majors as a player, Smith finally attained his big league dreams when he was named the Twins first base coach in 2017. This offseason the Twins replaced Molitor with former Rays player and coach Rocco Baldelli and made a clean sweep of the major league coaching staff, including Smith who had one more year on his contract. Smith, 44, said he had no hard feelings after spending half of his life with the franchise. It was just business and he considered the Twins organization as part of his family.

“I was with the Twins for 22 years as a player and a coach. That’s a long time to spend in one organization,” Smith said. “I got that same feeling from the Rays as having that same type of family and the same kind of commitment. You could feel that they are committed to their people and committed to their staff.”

It was that family-like atmosphere and feeling of home that enticed Smith, who also had the opportunity to become the catching coordinator for another big league club. The Rays, he said, gave him not only gave him a chance to be around his family year-round but an an opportunity to grow with the franchise in the future. The organization’s emphasis on statistical analysis and knack for outside-the-box approaches to player development were also big factors in accepting the position.

“That was an intriguing part of it to me,” Smith said. “One of my strengths has always been teaching but I think another one of my strengths that has grown over time has been being able to take the analytical side and taking that information, using it wisely and using it as another tool to teach. I’ve learned to take that information and make it simple for the players and make those players better rather just using it in game situations.”

While Smith still hopes to become a big league manager someday, he is just happy to be managing the Stone Crabs this season.

“Long-term I’d like to get back to the big leagues at some point but whatever that journey, whatever that path, whether it’s quick or whether it’s long, that’s okay,” he said. “Right now my goal is to enjoy it and enjoy just teaching baseball again because I think this is where I should be right now.”

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