You might recognize Claude Smith as the name that adorns the baseball field at Mercer University’s OrthoGeorgia Park. The field was named for the former baseball coach upon his retirement, which came after Smith dedicated over 30 years of his life to Mercer. Here’s how he became a Mercer Legend.
Mercer connection: Former Mercer baseball coach
Years at Mercer: 1943-77
What he did: Smith came to Mercer in 1943 as a physical education instructor. After World War II, the University resumed intercollegiate athletics, and in 1948, Smith became the baseball coach. The early years were tough, as Mercer had inadequate baseball facilities and limited players.
Over time, Smith built a team and tended the field as an expert groundskeeper. By the time he retired, Smith had won 405 games, making him the winningest coach in Mercer’s history.
Why he is a legend: During his 34 years at Mercer, Smith played an outsize role in growing Mercer baseball in talent and prestige. He was instrumental in the baseball program moving from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to Division I of the NCAA in 1973.
Smith received numerous honors throughout his career. In 1971, he was recognized for 25 years of service by the American Association of College Baseball Coaches. In 1972, he was inducted into Mercer’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and in 1977, the Macon Athletic Hall of Fame presented him with a “service to sports” award.
Claude Smith Field was named for the legendary coach in 1977. Smith died four years later in 1981.
His Mercer legacy lives on through his son, Claude Smith Jr., who is a Double Bear and current senior associate vice president and director of planned giving at Mercer. The younger Smith and wife Linda, along with sister Sara Clark and her husband, Roddy, established the Claude Smith Endowment for Baseball this year and invite others to join in to support the baseball program.
Quotable: “Coach Smith laid the groundwork for Mercer baseball’s greatness, and the success we’ve had here recently goes back to the roots he laid for the program. His legacy is not only being a coach but also a mentor and friend. He set the bar very high for coaches of all sports at Mercer.” — Mercer baseball coach Craig Gibson
Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.