by Tom Pedulla
Ryan Smith, an ace left-hander at Hackley School, understands the value of home-field advantage better than anyone. He has attended Hackley since kindergarten, but his connection runs far deeper than that.
“It’s been home since I was born,” Smith said.
His father, Bill, has served as Director of Buildings and Grounds since 1997, leading the family to live on campus so that he may respond to urgent matters if they arise. Ryan is the oldest of four children born to Bill and his wife, Flor. Ryan has two brothers, Patrick, 15, and Dillon, 14, and a sister, Isabella, 11.
Smith, a senior, made three interceptions at cornerback and contributed on offense as a wide receiver as Hackley rolled to a 7-0 season in the Metropolitan Independent Football League last autumn. The team fashioned a 28-4 record in his four years.
He is also a mainstay on the baseball team, heading the pitching rotation while providing an offensive catalyst as a first baseman or outfielder when he is not on the mound. He batted a rousing .382 as a junior with a team-leading 15 RBI.
He developed so much as a pitcher that he was recruited by Division 3 Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. He will continue his career there while chasing his dream of reaching the major leagues and continuing his academic progress.
Smith, 5-9, 165 pounds, traces much of his success to the easy access he enjoyed to Hackley’s facilities.
“Not many people have a baseball field or a (batting) cage right next to them,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the biggest naturally, so I would have to work out a lot and get stronger.”
Smith was chosen by his teammates as a baseball tri-captain – twin brothers Steven and Christopher Wahrhaftig are the other captains – due to his relentless work ethic. His father said Ryan’s alarm is typically set for 5:50 a.m. so he can focus on conditioning before attending to a demanding academic schedule. Late-night workouts also are common.
“It’s like the days of Louie Carnesecca and Chris Mullin at St. John’s,” said Steve Frolo, Hackley’s baseball coach. “Chris had the key to the gym and would shoot any time day or night. With Ryan, he was able to come in, get his swings in, use the weight room whenever he wanted to. It definitely helped.”
Smith often left behind evidence of his presence and that of his brothers.
“There would be balls scattered all over the gym on Monday mornings,” Frolo said. “The comment was always, ‘The Smith boys were around.’”
It took time and physical maturation for all of Smith’s work to reap rewards.
“He was always a smaller kid,” Frolo said. “It was only in the last year that he made himself into a player who could throw the ball in the low to mid 80’s.”
Smith has worked extensively with associate head coach Jim Gorton on his pitching mechanics with an emphasis on improving his balance and on adding a changeup to complement his fastball and curveball. Nothing comes easily, but it is coming.
“When he throws, he’s putting everything into it, shoelaces and everything,” Bill said. “He can really bring it for a kid his size.”
Smith wants to do well for himself. He also has been driven to win for Hackley. His connection to the school could not be stronger.
“He has an appreciation for what Hackley has to offer and what Hackley has given to him,” his father said. “You have to work really hard, but he’s a hard-working kid.”
Before long, Smith will experience college life and a new level of competition. He looks forward to that challenge.
“I want to be one of those guys you hear about in college representing Hackley School,” he said, understanding that home will always be where the heart is.