Matt Smith was a three-year baseball letterman from Portland, Ore., and a relief pitcher on Linfield's 2004 Northwest Conference co-championship team. He graduated in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in history and secondary education.
What are you currently up to today?
I am currently living in Valencia, Venezuela, with my wife, Megan. We are both teaching at Colegio Internacional de Carabobo. CIC is an international school which offers an American curriculum for international and local students. I am teaching AP classes in the Social Studies department. Before this school year, I taught at Beaverton High School (my alma mater) and was the head varsity baseball coach there. I taught there for five years (straight out of Linfield) before Megan and I decided to try the International teaching gig. This year, I have coached the middle and high school baseball teams, where we play against the other international schools in Venezuela. It isn't nearly at the level of high school baseball in the States, although much of the club baseball down here is. Baseball is most prevalent in the poverty stricken areas down here, where the most popular sports at our school are golf and tennis. This summer, I am beginning my master's program in International Education in Prague, Czech Republic, and will be teaching at the International School of Estonia for the next two years starting in August.
What are the pros and cons of living in Venezuela?
Living in Venezuela has been the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life. Water and food shortages, and electricity outages are a daily occurrence here, as well as high inflation where we have seen the cost of our groceries double in the last 10 months. We have witnessed protests on the street that we live on, as well as tear gas being used on those same protestors. Car thefts, kidnapping, and corruption in the police force are also things that we have had to be aware of. For all of those negative things, my wife and I have been able to see so much of this beautiful country. We have seen Angel Falls, hiked in the Andes, gone on Safaris in the Gran Sabana (much like our Great Plains), and the Caribbean is only an hour away. The country would be a tourist mecca if the government situation was a little better. The other great thing about Venezuela is the rich baseball tradition they have here. Kids are out in the streets every day with a stick and a tennis or racquetball emulating their favorite players (Felix Hernandez and Omar Vizquel seem to be most popular). The Venezuelan Winter League was also wonderful to see. They are crazy about baseball here and going to a VWL game is quite the experience.
What is the most rewarding part of your current situation?
Personally, what has been most rewarding is that I can now see how people in the Third World live. Being a social studies teacher, it is easy to tell your kids what life would be like in another country, but after having lived here, I can now tell them so much more about Hugo Chavez, socialism, and the difficulties that so many of the poor people face in Venezuela. It has taught me a lot about the world and also given me a new-found respect for living in the United States.
How would you describe the baseball culture down there?
The baseball culture down here is absolutely nuts. Every citizen lives and dies by their local team (Venezuelan Winter Leagues). Most follow the Major Leagues as well, but they consider this winter league as the true World Series. Many professionals from the States come down to play in the summer and the rivalry between our local team, Valencia, and the team from Caracas trumps any rivalry in the States. The games are a festive atmosphere with bands playing music non-stop, people singing, and probably most crazy is the amount of beer that is consumed. Every one in the crowd tends to throw their beers into the air when the home team gets a hit. Basically I learned from the first game I attended, was that I needed to bring my rain jacket. Also, you cannot go 10 blocks down the road without seeing kids in the street playing baseball.
What is your fondest memory at Linfield?
My fondest memory of playing baseball at Linfield would have to be winning the NWC championship during my senior year (2004) and playing in regionals. Unfortunately, it led to my most bitter memory as well, losing to George Fox in the regionals and watching them go on to win the national championship. All the time we spent on the road playing competitive games of spades was a highlight for me as well.
You coached current Linfield ace Ryan Larson in high school. What are your feelings when you see the success he is having?
Seeing Ryan have so much success at Linfield does not surprise me at all. I knew he always had the tools to successfully play at the next level but when I first had him as a sophomore, he was still learning how to pitch. Once he began to gain more confidence in his change-up, he was able to use it in all counts and I think this is what has made him so effective as a pitcher today. Also, Ryan comes from such a wonderful family who enjoys the game of baseball. Having two older brothers and supportive parents laid the groundwork for him to become a great baseball player.
What for you made Linfield such a great place to compete in athletics?
Coming out of high school I had been thinking about playing in the NWC. I spent some time looking at Linfield, Willamette, and Lewis & Clark. After visiting the Linfield campus my senior year, and seeing the amazing academic and athletic facilities that Linfield had to offer, I was pretty sure it is where I wanted to go. My good friend, Eric Hillison, also decided to attend Linfield and play football so it made my decision easier. My dad played baseball with (assistant coach) Jimmy Ray for years as well so I had a connection there.
It wasn't just the baseball for me that made my experience at Linfield so great. Living in a small town where everyone knew about the school and its athletics, going out to the football field on Saturdays to watch my buddies compete, and spend most of the year with a tight-knit group of baseball friends all made attending Linfield a great experience. The tradition that Linfield has in both football and baseball also made it a great place to compete. The expectation was to win league every year and compete for a national championship. As a player, you can't ask for anything more than that.
Do you plan returning to the U.S. at some point?
Megan and I do plan on coming back to live in the United States at some point. We are not sure if that will be in two years, five years, or 10, but we do plan on buying some land in the Columbia River Gorge and making the Northwest our permanent home. Right now though, we both are trying to take advantage of seeing the world, teaching to a diverse group of students, and learning more about different cultures and perspectives.
What long-term goals do you have for yourself?
My long-term goal is to continue to improve as a teacher. I get bored quite easily so always challenging myself to become better at my profession keeps me on my toes. This is why I love the teaching profession. This job provides unique challenges for an educator, whether you are teaching in the States or abroad.
I would like to get back into coaching again although probably not as a head coach. Being a head coach was rewarding for me but it is also was so time consuming with a spring and summer season, field maintenance, and fundraising. I have a lot of respect for the people who are able to do this year in and year out. Teaching is my first love and I felt like my teaching was taking a back seat to the amount of attention and energy it takes to be a head baseball coach. I miss the coaching aspect, so it is definitely something I would love to get back into once I return to the States.