Making the jump from junior hockey to the professional ranks isn’t exactly uncommon, but going from the rink to professional baseball certainly is.
It’s been an unconventional path to the pros for Darren Smale, head trainer and equipment manager for the St. Marys Lincolns. In the spring, he will join the Rocket City Trash Pandas as clubhouse manager for their inaugural season after attending spring training in Arizona with the team’s major league affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels.
To use Smale’s own words, he’s just “living the dream.”
Smale first joined the Lincolns’ junior hockey club about 15 years ago when he was a teenager, serving as an assistant equipment manager.
Born and raised in St. Marys, it was a team he grew up idolizing and an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
“When I was finishing minor hockey, I was looking ways to stay involved and give back to the sport, and that was an avenue I looked at and started to take some courses and go from there,” said Smale, who moved to northern Ontario for school, only to return home and rejoin the Lincolns prior to the 2017-18 season.
“As I moved up the levels, I started thinking, ‘Wow, this is something I actually could do,’ and then I realized this was the way I could give back and stay involved in the sport that I love so much.”
Smale’s new gig will actually cut his hockey season short, as he’ll head to Arizona for spring training with the Angels in March at about the same time the Lincolns will begin playoffs.
He initially interviewed to be the Angels clubhouse manager for the team’s spring training facility but was instead offered the job with the Trash Pandas.
“I found out they were looking for a guy and thought I’d apply and see what happens, and lo and behold, they got in contact with me, and things sort of started taking off from there, did a couple of interviews and they ended up going well,” Smale said.
Smale says he has never been one to turn down a new experience and tries to put his full effort into everything he does, no matter how small the task may seem.
“The way I do things is I want to be as professional as I can. I’ve heard people say, as an equipment manager, your dressing room is like your business card. I really try to make sure everything has that pro feel to it,” he said.
“When the guys walk into the room and you can see it in them that they feel at home and comfortable so they can be focused on the game, that’s my goal — to make game days as easy for them as possible.”
It won’t be Smale’s first experience with a baseball locker room, either, having previously worked with the London Majors.
He’s also spent time with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. He says although there are more players on a football team — and more laundry — there are many more equipment demands in hockey.
Earlier this month, the Trash Pandas announced former MLBer Jay Bell would be the first manager in the team’s history.
As for anyone else out there considering chasing their dream job, Smale recommends that you “work hard and just go for it because you never know what could happen.”
The Trash Pandas open up their inaugural season in Minor League Baseball’s Southern League on April 15.
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