Smigelski hopes to build on breakout freshman season
When your name is mentioned in the same breath as former Rice Owl and MLB all-star Anthony Rendon, you’re in good company. For sophomore infielder Aaron Smigelski, that honor was bestowed early in his career, as he became the first Owl since Rendon to hit two home runs in a game three different times over the course of his freshman campaign.
Smigelski, who was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team last season, led the 2022 Owls in OPS and slugging percentage, and was tied with the team lead for on-base percentage.
According to Smigelski, despite the recognition he earned, his freshman year was a critical learning opportunity as he was thrust into action early in the season.
“I learned a lot throughout my freshman year, matured quite a bit,” Smigelski said. “I got my name called pretty early on in the year to help out the team. I think I came along, and did that pretty well offensively. So I’m pretty happy about what I did last year and I’m happy to continue that into this year.”
Smigelski attributes much of his success to his family, who have played a crucial role in supporting him throughout his journey as a baseball player, especially as an Owl.
“My family, they’re probably the reason I’m here right now. They’ve sacrificed a lot,” Smigelski said. “My parents and my brother and even my extended family have sacrificed a lot to support me, even though they’re pretty far away. They still come here for a lot of the games. They’re the reason I’m here. So without them, I can’t do anything.”
Growing up as a two-sport athlete, Smigelski enjoyed playing hockey and baseball as a teenager. Despite these interests, Smigelski said that he had to make a tough choice in deciding what sport to pursue.
“I was probably in seventh or eighth grade where I had to kind of decide which one I wanted to continue my career with,” Smigelski said. “I chose baseball because it was an easier outcome where I grew up in North Carolina to play baseball, obviously. I felt like I’d have a future [in] the sport if I chose to kind of put all my time and energy into the sport.”
Dedicating his time to baseball, Smigelski had success throughout high school, including being awarded MVP of the 2021 National Academies Association championship tournament while playing for Pro 5 Baseball Academy. His high school performances attracted the eye of many large programs including Duke University and North Carolina State University.
“I was recruited by some bigger schools where I’m from,” Smigelski said. “Being from the east coast, baseball is pretty big. So the [Atlantic Coast Conference] was a big factor for me deciding if I wanted to stay in North Carolina or come to Houston and explore my options here.”
Despite being wanted by these schools, Smigelski said he ultimately chose Rice because of the program’s history and his trust in the coaching staff.
“I chose Rice because of the academics and the great story of the baseball team,” Smigelski said. “They have won [the national championship] before, and [the] trust that I have with [head] coach [Jose] Cruz and [associate head] coach [Paul] Janish was a big part of it for me.”
With hopes of making a professional career out of baseball, Smigelski hopes to use the momentum from his freshman season to continue to improve while playing a key role for the Owls.
“I feel like over my time at Rice, I’m going to just continue to keep getting better and better, and so forth until I hopefully make it to the draft in a few years,” Smigelski said.
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