For cancer survivor, it's about giving back


Devin Smeltzer started writing the names under the bill of his baseball cap when he was 10 or 11.

Some of them were other children with cancer. Some were survivors, like him. Some were gone.

"Those are the people I play for," said Smeltzer, a senior at Bishop Eustace and one of the nation's most highly touted scholastic baseball players.

With his live left arm, the 6-foot-3 Smeltzer can throw better than 90 m.p.h. He was 8-3 with a 1.77 ERA and 109 strikeouts for Bishop Eustace last season.

He's also a top hitter with great speed in the outfield. He has signed a scholarship offer to Florida Gulf Coast, the school that produced Chicago White Sox star pitcher Chris Sale.

Smeltzer might never get to college. He projects as a possible high choice in June's Major League Baseball draft, which is why the Yankees and other teams sent him a questionnaire in the fall.

"One of the questions was what I wanted to do off the field," Smeltzer said the other night. "I wrote that I wanted to give back to kids who were in the same position that I was in.

"[Yankees scout] Matt Hyde said he'd never seen an answer like that before."

Hyde reached out to Smeltzer and told him about a showcase in Syracuse the last weekend in January. He invited Smeltzer to attend.

But it's never just about baseball for Smeltzer. He never forgets that he received a cancer diagnosis when he was 9, that he underwent surgery and chemotherapy, that he needed a feeding tube, that he owes his life to the people at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

The event in Syracuse already was designed to raise money for children with diabetes. Smeltzer and Hyde arranged for a portion of the proceeds from registration fees and auctions to be donated to Katie's Krusaders, an organization named in honor of a late little girl that supports programs at St. Christopher's.

The event raised $17,500. Then an anonymous donor volunteered to match it, so a total of $35,000 was raised - with $17,500 going to diabetes research and support, and $17,500 to Katie's Krusaders.

"They do great work," Smeltzer said of the organization that's near and dear to his heart. "They build game rooms for the kids. They help the parents. They partner with the Ronald McDonald House."

Smeltzer's sports career is about to bust open. He is about to begin his senior season, and his every game is likely to be watched by dozens of major-league scouts.

"I'm itching to get started," he said.

By June, Smeltzer likely will know what's next for him, baseball-wise: a big-time college program or the start of a professional career. He senses the possibilities.

But he never will forget his time at St. Christopher's. He still goes back there once a month or so, to meet with kids and parents, to volunteer his time and offer his support.

"When they get a new patient, a lot of times they'll call me and ask me to go talk with the kid and the parents," Smeltzer said. "That's what I want to do. I want to give back."

He has played on numerous teams since he left the hospital. He has worn dozens of hats.

He has written names on all of them. He says it helps to remind him not only how he returned to the mound, but also why.

"I play for them," Smeltzer said, "but at the same time, they watch over me."