With an athletic bloodline, Rylee Smith of Westholme was born to excel in sports. She also has some of the very best fastball players in the business as coaches and mentors to aid further in her development as an extraordinary talent on the ball field.
Smith’s mom Heather was a standout in soccer and women’s football, her dad Rick of Crofton a world-class pitcher in the heyday of men’s fastball with the Vancouver Grey Sox, The Farm in Wisconsin, Aspen of Saskatoon, H.I.S. Construction of Houston and Victoria Travelers Inn among other teams over the years. That gave Rylee a basis to hone her natural abilities.
She started in figure skating at a very early age with the Duncan Skating Club and continued until 16 while playing some field hockey as well. But ball was always her first love and when it came time to make a decision, that’s the path Smith chose.
“It was either ball or figure skating, I liked ball better,” she confided.
Smith, who just turned 18 on July 24, is currently playing for the Victoria Devils Under 19 fastball team coached by the legendary Rocky Vitale. After a couple of seasons of limited action due to COVID, Smith and her teammates are looking forward to playing in the Under 19A provincial championships starting Aug. 6 in Richmond. They’ve otherwise been confined to playing in the women’s league at Victoria’s Hyacinth Park during pandemic restrictions.
Pitching prowess has only accelerated in the last few years for Smith. She also plays the outfield.
Smith can always count on dear old dad for advice and pointers about technique, of course. But then she’s received more expert guidance from Korrey Gareau, a Campbell River product living in Shawnigan Lake, who also has top credentials among the elite in the sport.
“He’s like another father figure to me,” said Smith. “He’s known me since I was little.”
The glory days of fastball were special with families of top players so interconnected, spreading down to the next generation in later years.
Smith works with Gareau on a regular basis.
“He’ll come out and watch our games,” she noted. “I tried to get him to coach.”
As if that isn’t enough, Vitale was a catcher for some of the top pitchers in the game and provides another perspective on all facets of fastball to the benefit of Smith and the other girls.
And Smith even has a batting coach, Darren Kolk of Duncan, who provides his expertise in that area.
“Three or four different guys all teaching me the ways,” raved Smith.
It all adds up to a learning experience and fastball environment that’s hard to match anywhere.
“Everyone has their own different ways they like to coach,” Smith reasoned. “They’re all so calm. Each pitcher is different.”
Being realistic is always a good starting point.
“You’re not one that’s going to beam it right by them,” Smith indicated. “It’s nice your coach can see things. It’s just nice how Rocky knows everyone’s job what they need to do.”
Smith likes how Vitale gives her and the other pitchers on the team the basis for what strategies need to be implemented.
“He says what I need to do, he kind of lets you figure it out,” she said. “He will time out and ask what the heck’s happening. But he wants each pitcher to get yourself out of it.”
Of course, if that doesn’t happen, then he makes a change, but not before every opportunity is afforded to them which the girls appreciate.
“Even for warm-ups, he lets us do our own thing,” noted Smith. “If we’re taking too long it’s our problem. It’s nice he lets us do our own thing. Obviously, he’ll be there for us.”
Smith started playing organized ball when she was 10 years old in the Duncan River Cats program. Friend Anna Beauchamp got her into it and dad was obviously happy she chose that route. She wears her dad’s trademark uniform No. 21.
Smith went to the Devils in 2016 and the team won the provincials at the U16 level.
“That was amazing,” she enthused. “It was kind of a rocky road after that.”
No pun intended with the rocky reference and her current coach Rocky, of course, since that didn’t happen until 2018 and the girls are on the upward swing again.
Despite COVID seriously interrupting things, Smith has enjoyed traveling to places like Delaware and Las Vegas through her experiences playing ball. Their team switched gears and went to Little League before COVID that led to the Delaware trip for a World Series in 2019.
“I pitched but not as much before Rocky’s team,” said Smith. “Rocky let me pitch. He’s very big with letting everyone pitch. You only learn so much without pitching.”
There are currently four other pitchers on the Devils besides Smith.
The first meaningful games in a while for the Devils came when they recently split with the White Rock Renegades in advance of the provincials.
“It’s nice we’re able to compete at that level,” said Smith. “We were playing games that didn’t really matter.”
After graduating from Cowichan Secondary School in June, Smith and Beauchamp are taking a gap year to travel to Australia and she’ll still be eligible to play for Vitale’s U19 Devils one more season.
Schools south of the border know of Smith and there’s always an option to play college ball in the future.
“I’m debating if I’ll go to school for ball or not,” she pondered. “Rocky’s saying if you want to go somewhere he will find a way for you to get there.”