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'You only go around once': Smith honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Granville "Granny" Smith, on right with fellow former Park coach Charlie Whitbred, was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tenure as Park's baseball coach at the Play Ball Minnesota Awards Banquet, held on June 16 at Jax Café in Minneapolis.

Granville "Granny" Smith said he always wanted to be a teacher and a coach. He said it felt like a natural fit to him. However, not many did it any better.

Smith was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tenure as Park's baseball coach at the Play Ball Minnesota Awards Banquet, held on June 16 at Jax Café in Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Twins and the Twins Community Fund, the Minute Men and the Minnesota Baseball Coaches Association presented Smith the Lifetime Achievement Award in connection to the 2013 Minnesota Ms. Softball and Mr. Baseball awards.

Smith, who will turn 92 on July 18, spoke at the banquet and talked about what being a teacher and baseball coach meant to him.

"You only go around once so you might as well do what you can for other people, because you're not going around again," Smith said. "That's what I've tried to do."

Smith worked for the school district for 45 years. He retired from teaching in 1983, but was a substitute teacher until 1990. His last year as a coach was the 1977-78 season. Smith said that year stands out in his memory. Smith's son Brad was a senior first baseman for him that year. Park also dedicated the field to Smith at that season's end.

"That was really something," Smith said. "This, too, would rate as a crowning achievement to my career. When I went into the Park Hall of Fame, I thought that was the end of it. This was a complete surprise."

Smith attended the banquet with fellow former Park greats Bill Kroschel and Gary Fehrman.

Smith said the award and banquet came as a surprise, but he wasn't afraid about speaking in front of the packed house at Jax.

"I was kind of nervous thinking about what I was going to do, because I only had three days to prepare," Smith said. "I didn't want to make a fool out of myself. Sometimes you can wing it, but I didn't want to do it with something like this."

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was the key-note speaker at the banquet. Smith sat by Ryan at the event and the two talked about baseball and the Twins.

"He's a really nice guy," Smith said.

Smith finished his 32-year coaching career with a 328-133 overall record (a .711 winning percentage) and his teams won 14 conference championships. Out of his 32 years as Park's coach, Smith's teams finished first or second in the conference 25 times. Smith was a charter member of the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame and was voted into Park High School's first athletic Hall of Fame class. In 1978, Smith was named Minnesota High School Baseball Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the National Baseball Coach of the Year. He is also a recipient of the Dick Siebert Award, named for the legendary baseball coach at the University of Minnesota.

"Anyone that's in coaching knows if you don't have the players you're not going to win," Smith said. "I had a lot of good kids play ball for me."

Smith graduated from Hamline in 1945, just after World War II. He got the job in St. Paul Park the following school year with help from his friend, Marvin Towes. Towes was leaving to attend Washington University and his wife, a teacher in St. Paul Park, was going with him.

"He got a scholarship to work on his Ph.D," Smith said. "He asked me if I was looking for a job. He told me he could arrange an interview for me. I met with the superintendent and the school board. A couple days later I had the job."

His first contract with Superintendent F. G. Brandes and the school board was for a salary of $1,750 for the 1945-1946 school year.

Smith paid $12,000 for his first home in St. Paul Park and lived there with his wife for 53 years. He has since moved from that house, but hasn't left Cottage Grove, where he is one of the most beloved members of the community and a local legend.

"I just always wanted to be a teacher and a coach," Smith said. I think coaching is another way of teaching. The ball field is your classroom more or less and you just try to do the best you can with the kids that come out. I think the first thing a coach has to do is get the kids behind what you're trying to do. The kids at Park did that. It was a good situation. I wouldn't mind doing it again if I had the kids like I had."

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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