The Garden City baseball team welcomed back a Long Island coaching legend on Saturday afternoon.
Rich Smith, 79, who served as the program’s head coach for 44 years – and began coaching at the school in 1967 – was honored during a one-hour pregame ceremony prior to Garden City’s non-league game against Seaford.
With Smith’s family and several of his former players and coaches on hand, Garden City retired his No. 8, unveiling it out in right field.
Seaford won the contest over the defending Long Island Conference II champions, 7-5.
“To the young players on both teams, savor your high school baseball experience,” said Smith, who posted a 667-386-18 record with the Trojans, finishing his career as Long Island’s second-winningest coach behind Division’s Doug Robins (695). “Work hard to better yourselves. Listen to your coaches. They love the game, understand it and they know how to teach it. And be kind to it.
“Thanks to all the parents over the years who supported the coaches…I enjoyed coaching Garden City baseball for all these years – well, most of them. And I loved being around our players. I hope that in some small way that I reached out and touched all of their lives in a positive way to make them better people.”
Smith helped lead Garden City to the state and Long Island Class B titles in 2000, as they went 26-3. He also won 10 regular season conference titles and three Nassau County championships.
Garden City junior varsity baseball coach and 2004 graduate Ryan Boelsen detailed Smith’s long-lasting impact from his playing days.
“Coach Smith was the first to keep you accountable, but he was also the first one to run up to you and smile when you were able to succeed,” Boelsen said. “I think the infectiousness of that smile is what everyone remembers.”
Tied at 3 in the top of the fifth inning, left fielder Brian Fader laced a double go-ahead RBI double into right-center to give Seaford a 4-3 advantage. Catcher Stephen Ierides followed up two batters later with an RBI single to left that extended the lead to 5-3.
Seaford held a 7-3 lead entering the bottom of the seventh and allowed two runs, but closed out the victory on a deep drive to left that was hauled in for the final out. Ryan Reeves allowed one run over three innings of relief to earn the win.
First baseman Billy Kind opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the second.
“I saw a pitch that I liked on the first pitch, inside and went with it,” Kind said. “It felt great off the bat.”
Despite his overwhelming success, Smith’s tenure in Garden City ended abruptly following the 2016 season. His annual coaching contract was not renewed and he filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit against the Garden City Union Free School District in March of 2017.
Smith later dropped the lawsuit and, according to a settlement agreement obtained by Newsday, the two sides settled for $24,000 that December.