NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- When Brett Smith first stepped onto Old Dominion's campus as a freshman baseball player, Barack Obama was President of the United States, Sia's Cheap Thrills topped the Billboard charts and Suicide Squad was the number one movie at the box office.
"'Professor Smith' and 'Old Man,' he get's all of it," laughed Monarch head coach Chris Finwood. "That's baseball."
"I know a lot of guys make a lot of jokes about the guys on the wall from the 1970's and 80's," smiled Smith. "They say 'hey, how as it playing with him back then?' so I get a lot of old man jokes."
The Grassfield High School graduate is the elder statesman of Monarch baseball. He's suited up in the silver and blue since 2016 and has made some history in the process. Smith is Old Dominion's first ever seventh-year senior.
"All seven years here at ODU," said the right-handed pitcher. "It's been a great experience and I've gotten to know a lot of different teammates."
"There have been a number of sixth-year guys throughout college athletics, but not many seven year guys," Finwood noted.
His journey has not come without adversity. In fact, how he's handled the hurdles placed in front of him will likely end up helping to define his college career. It all started early during his sophomore campaign.
"I was feeling really good, came into close the first game of the year after having a little bit of elbow tightness and ended up having to get Tommy John surgery right after that," recalled Smith.
Tommy John surgery is an operation on the elbow to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament. It is relatively common among pitchers.
When all was said and done, the Monarch pitcher would end up having three operations on his elbow, shortening two of his collegiate seasons and forcing him to miss another. At one point he couldn't even straighten his arm. It would have been easy to just walk away from baseball, but the camaraderie with his teammates and advice from a friend helped him to push forward.
"You can either go about and cry and pout about it or you can use it to make you better," Smith said of his injury situation. "I decided to look at the positive aspects from it and use this to grow and I think it's something that's helped me in my life experiences as well to handle adversity."
"He made me keep him on the roster even when he was barely able to throw," Finwood remembered. "You can't ever give up on a kid that just won't quit."
Now Smith is back on the mound and has a lot to smile about. He's healthy, continues to improve on the hill and is working on his doctorate in engineering. He's persevered and probably inspired some people along the way.
"He's going to have so many opportunities because of this and so many great stories and memories because of it as well," said Finwood.
"Look for the good, look for the positives out of it," Smith said of what others might take away from his story. "Use that to make yourself better and help others around you."
Smith has appeared in eight games this season and holds a 4.82 ERA. He's thrown 9.1 innings, striking out nine and walking seven. The right-hander has not allowed a run in five of his eight appearances so far in 2022.
The Monarchs return to the diamond on Friday when they open a weekend series at Florida International. First pitch is set for 7:00 PM.