Smith, Pickhardt play summer ball
Heath Pickhardt and Kyle Smith started playing baseball on the same team when they were 8 and 9, respectively.
For more than 10 years, the two stars played on the same team as they advanced through Little League and high school ball.
That all changed this summer when the two Crook County High School players were picked up by different summer baseball teams.
Smith, who graduated from Crook County this June, is playing first base and is a designated hitter for the Salem Capitals, while Pickhardt, who just finished his junior year of high school, is catching and playing third base for the Bend Bucks.
The two teams play in the same wooden bat college summer league.
Pickhardt and Smith squared off against each other for the first time Monday and Tuesday, July 3-4, at Vince Genna Stadium in Bend.
"The friendship for so long playing with him made playing against him fun," Smith said. "It is definitely different than a metal bat league, but it's also pretty fun with the competition in this league."
Pickhardt added that it was a little strange at first playing against one of his closest friends.
"I think we have been teammates every year since I was 8 and he was 9, so we've been together a lot," he said. "We've played hundreds of games together, so it was weird, but it was fun being competitive with him like that. It would be fun if he was on my team this summer, and I wish that he was, but I'm just glad that he's getting to play."
The Bucks are the younger of the two teams as most of the Capitals have at least a year of college experience, while the majority of Bucks are either still in high school or have just graduated.
Still, the Bucks gained the upper hand, winning three of the four games in the series.
After an early pitchers' battle, the Capitals took the lead early in game one. With Smith not starting for the first time all season, Salem took a two-run lead in the top half of the third.
The Capitals extended their lead to four runs when they added two more runs in the fourth.
Smith entered the game in the sixth inning and promptly earned a walk. However, Bucks pitcher Markus Ramos struck out the side, stranding Smith at first.
With Bend still scoreless, the Capitals pushed two more runs across in the top of the seventh inning to take what seemed like an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
However, the Bucks responded with a six-run explosion to send the game into extra innings. A two-out grand slam home run by Troy Viola, a graduate of Summit High School, tied the game.
The Bucks finally won in the bottom of the eighth inning as their leadoff hitter was hit by a pitch, and subsequently stole second. A walk, followed by a strikeout and a second walk loaded the bases before a suicide squeeze play scored the winning run.
Bend players rushed out of the dugout, piling on the batter in celebration.
Smith started the second game of the doubleheader and ripped a double. Meanwhile, Pickhardt didn't play in the game as the Bucks pulled away for an easy win.
The following day, the two teams took to the field again, with the Capitals winning game one. Bend then came back to take a close second game, as they took three of the four games.
Both Pickhardt and Smith started and played all of both games on Tuesday.
Pickhardt noted that many of the Bucks players know Smith from high school, and they spent much of the day trash talking with him.
"We got a little chippy between each other," he said. "There was definitely some trash talking going on, but it was friendly. There are multiple kids on my team that know Kyle, not just me, so when he was on first base close to our dugout, he was getting plenty of trash talk towards him."
The two teams will face each other again later in the year in Salem.
Smith said that he is thrilled to be playing for the Capitals, although it means a lot of travel.
The team seldom practices except for immediately prior to games, so Smith is staying at home and then traveling over the mountains to get to home games.
He added that it is a fun experience and that he expects it to help him get ready for college baseball.
"The pitching is definitely a jump," he said. "You've got better pitch counts. They have more pitches they can throw and they are more accurate, but it's pretty fun because you actually have a chance to hit something a little bit farther because they throw harder."
Smith added that he is making the adjustment to the pitching more quickly than he expected.
Pickhardt, who is in his second season playing with the Bucks, agreed that the pitching was a bit of an adjustment.
"It's harder for sure," he said. "But it's also good for you. To get better, you have to play with guys that are better than you."
Both players are excited to see how the remainder of their season goes, and both believe that their teams are going to win more games as the season progresses.
"The season is actually going real well compared to what they expected to happen," Smith said. "We won the first game Tuesday against Bend, and lost the second game in a pretty close call. We could have done better, but at least we got one out of them."
Meanwhile, Pickhardt said that the Bucks have been going through a bit of adjustment as the team has a new coach and several new players this year.
"We are basically a completely different team from last summer," he said. "You have to be able to adapt and make changes and learn about your new teammates — learn how to succeed. I think that we are finally starting to figure that out and finally starting to win, and once you get that winning mentality, it's contagious. I look forward to a much more eventful, fun, winning summer."