By Dan Servodidio
When Kevin Smith and Andrew Bechtold first met, they were introduced as each other’s competition. Little did they know, it was that encounter that would lead to a path of success, respect, and most importantly for them, friendship.
The Maryland baseball freshmen standouts both had official visits on the same day with head coach John Szefc’s squad while still in high school. It was that afternoon when they decided to room together as Terps in the fall of 2014.
“We’re great friends and we have a lot of respect for each other,” Smith said of his relationship with Bechtold. The two are also roommates with fellow freshmen Jamal Wade and Tyler Brandon.
“Me and him come from similar backgrounds, similar families,” Bechtold said with a smile. “Me and Kev were actually the first two to get along [at the official visit]. We always say we have the best room.”
Although the two are close friends, they are in the midst of an ongoing competition for the starting shortstop job. Both were high school standouts at the position and both want to contribute right away.
Through nine games this season, Smith started eight of them at short while his counterpart has seen most of his playing time come at first base.
“I didn’t start playing first until about two weeks before the season started,” said Bechtold, who has seven starts at first and one at short. “I’ve talked to Coach Szefc, I know I’m going to get my time on the left side of the diamond where I play.”
“[Bechtold]’s one of our more versatile players,” Szefc said. “It allows us to get both those guys in the lineup at the same time. As time wore on, it became really apparent that it was important for us to get them both in the lineup at the same time, both defensively and offensively.”
Ironically, Bechtold came to College Park as a slightly higher-rated prospect. The Chadds Ford, Pa. native started all four years at short for Garnet Valley High School before getting selected in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers.
Smith, though, has gotten the nod at short for a reason. He was named to the 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove Team after a first-team all-state season for Columbia High School.
“I think it’s helped us compete a little bit more knowing that there’s a guy right next to me just as good maybe better than me,” said Smith, an East Greenbush, N.Y. native. “Working every day for that spot, I think we’ve both gotten a lot better.”
Despite the uncertainty at shortstop, the infielders don’t let their on-field competition affect their budding friendship.
“Obviously on the field it’s kind of hard because you’re both working for the same spot, both working to start.,” Smith said. “In the end, we’re great friends, we talk a lot and hang out a lot.”
Szefc’s 12th-ranked Terps are 7-2 in the early-goings of a season that has a lot to live up to. His team is a year removed from a program-record 40 wins, including their first-ever Super Regional appearance and first NCAA Tournament appearance in 43 years.
Maryland’s 2014 campaign featured, among their many contributors, two freshmen in Mike Shawaryn and Brandon Lowe – both honored as Freshman All-Americans by Baseball America, Perfect Game, Louisville Slugger and the NCBWA.
“The program’s headed in the right direction and you can tell from last year that’s definitely the case,” Bechtold said. “As you can tell, that’s why a lot of our freshmen chose to come here and why a lot of our freshmen make big impacts from the start.”
Last season’s phenom rookies may have set the bar high for Smith, Bechtold and the other freshmen to make an impact for the Terps. However, the young infielders must now fill the shoes of departed senior shortstop Blake Schmit who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in June’s MLB Draft.
“All of [the freshmen] are very experienced, we all come from good baseball backgrounds and we’ve played on big stages before,” Bechtold said. “Part of the reason the younger guys have had a lot of success this year is because we’re used to it and we all adapted very well.
As the Terps look to duplicate their success from a year ago, Szefc knows his freshmen need to step up and play big roles for the team.
“I think any good program is going to have to have freshmen in their lineup because you’re going to lose good players,” Szefc said. “We’re recruiting guys with the thought in mind that we want and need them to be immediate impact contributors.”
Kevin Smith and Andrew Bechtold say their decisions to attend the same school were made without the worry of losing playing time to each other. Both can help the Terps win now – a problem that Szefc says is a good one to have.
For now? The competition for a starting spot will have to take a backseat to their budding friendship.
“We both want to play,” Smith said. “We both want to help the team win.”