Leaving his Mark; N.S. softball legend Mark Smith reflects on Hall of Fame career
HALIFAX -- When Canada’s women's softball team takes the field at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, they’ll be led by one of the best players in the history of the sport.
Halifax’s Mark Smith is considered by many to be one of the greatest softball pitchers to ever play the game.
Smith says his success in life can be traced back to his childhood.
“We just were blessed with two incredible parents,” says Smith of growing up with his three brothers and one sister in North End Halifax. “We were rich in love and we were rich in support.”
Smith came from a well-known sports family, and says his parents instilled strong notions of citizenship and achievement in all five of their children.
“Dad was involved in softball, as a player and as an official,” recalls Smith. “As the eldest, I had a natural affinity for following Dad to the Commons and doing what he did.”
It was clear at an early age that Smith had a special talent for the game.
When he was just 16-years-old, Smith was the youngest member selected to represent Nova Scotia at the 1976 Canadian National Junior Men’s championship.
“That was the first time I realized I might be able to compete with people outside of our province,” says Smith.
Smith soon exploded onto the international stage, travelling the world as a star for Canada’s national team.
According to the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame, who inducted Smith in 2002, he pitched the first no-hitter in Pan Am Games history in 1979 and was an outstanding player at the 1981 International Softball Congress world tournament.
“I’ve dug into his history, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we are talking about the best softball player ever on the planet, full stop,” says Bruce Rainnie, President and CEO of the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
Smith also received an MLB tryout with the Kansas City Royals in 1982, and won gold medals at four Pan-Am Games. After retiring as a player in 1998, he was inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame in 1999.
When Smith wrapped up his playing career, he decided he wanted to coach for Softball Canada.
“From 1996 to 2009, I was with the men’s team, as the head coach from 2001 to 2009,” recalls Smith.
Since 2009, Smith has been head coach of Canada’s National Women’s team including leading them to a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and three bronze medals at the World Softball Championships.
But this summer, Smith hopes to get the chance to participate in one event that he has been waiting a long time for - the Olympic Games.
Women's softball was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008. but hasn't been played in the last two games. It was scheduled to make its return at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but they were postponed last summer due to COVID-19.
The Tokyo Olympics have been rescheduled for this summer, scheduled to begin July 23, and Smith and the Canadian team have qualified, despite some uncertainty remaining around the games.
“They deserve to go to an Olympic Games, and I am hopeful that they get to,” says Smith.
When asked to look back on his Hall of Fame career, Smith recalls many high points, but also a good deal of adversity.
“I have certainly been subjected to the ridicule, the sarcasm, the racial comments,” says Smith. “I’ve been subject to all of them, but what makes me most proud is that I’ve been able to achieve in the sport in spite of the adversity,” says Smith.
He remembers some wise words of advice that his father Robert gave him when he left home for the first time.
“Keep your head down, work hard, take nothing for granted, but remember you have to be twice as good to be considered equal,” recalls Smith.
Now when Smith mentors young athletes, he says his message is that it’s okay to get knocked down in life, but never let that be the reason that you don’t keep trying.
“For me, coming from the North End, I’m just exceptionally proud of where I come from, and what we’ve been able to accomplish.
Accomplishments that keep Smith involved in the sport that shaped his life, nearly forty years after he first took it up.