At the beginning of July, Parker Smejkal was hitting .263 with the Yorkton Cardinals of the Western Major Baseball League in Canada.
He received some advice from a World Series champion a few weeks earlier that helped him finish the final month of the summer baseball season on a torrid pace.
Buddy Biancalana was a member of the 1985 Kansas City Royals. His son, Bryn, is the head coach for Yorkton.
Biancalana came up to help the team for a few days and he had a simple message for Smejkal — relax.
“So I told myself to relax a lot more and I constantly found myself getting two or four hits a game and excelling a lot more,” said Smejkal, a 2015 Columbus High graduate.
Over the final 24 games of the season, Smejkal hit .382 with an on-base percentage over .500. By the end of the summer, he led the team in batting average (.321), home runs (6) and RBIs (31) and broke the franchise record for hits in a season with 59.
“That was cool to do,” said Smejkal.
He plans to play baseball for as long as he can. Breaking a record on a team that has featured future professional players, including current Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, is a good way to get his name out there.
That was Smejkal's plan before heading to Canada. Prior to his sophomore season at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his coaches asked him what he wanted to do during the summer. He could stay home or find a summer baseball league to play in.
After spending the previous summer playing in Virginia, Smejkal wanted to travel.
“I didn’t really want to stay close to home,” he said.
After some research, he narrowed his choices to two places — Alaska and Canada.
“Alaska is a really well-known league to be drafted out of and Canada is top-five as well to have scouts come look at you,” Smejkal said.
Players from across the United States compete in the WMBL each year.
When Yorkton asked Smejkal to join the team, he took the opportunity right away.
He played with guys from the University of Alabama and University of California-Santa Barbara. He played against guys from Oregon State, which reached the College World Series this year.
“I was facing a lot of guys that I would normally be facing in the spring season,” Smejkal said. “It helped me get a lot better seeing that kind of pitching and hitting.”
Smejkal went 0 for 4 in his first game on June 1, but it didn’t take long for him to adjust. In his seventh game, he hit his first home run of the season, then launched three more in the next four games.
A slump immediately followed the power surge as Smejkal hit just over .200 the next 13 games.
But he remained focused on being relaxed at the plate, just like Biancalana told him. He broke out of the slump with 11 multi-hit games in the final month to raise his batting average to .321.
After batting .237 as a sophomore at UNO, Smejkal knows it was his hitting that benefited the most from playing in Canada.
But that’s not his biggest takeaway from the season. He developed into one of the leaders for Yorkton. After the season ended, his coaches thanked him for stepping into that role.
That’s what he wants to carry over the most.
“Going into my junior season at UNO, I really hope I can take on a leadership role next season,” Smejkal said.