Houston Astros: Joe Smith opens up on decision to opt out

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 09: Joe Smith #38 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 9, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 09: Joe Smith #38 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 9, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Joe Smith was the only Houston Astros payer to opt out of the 2020 season. He recently opened up to The Athletic about what went into his decision.

On Wednesday, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic published a story (subscription required) about Astros reliever Joe Smith and his decision to opt-out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The veteran reliever chose to leave the game of baseball behind to stay with family, and the last time Smith missed a season of professional baseball was 2006, the year he was drafted by the New York Mets.

It was not easy for Smith to watch his fellow teammates hit the field without him, but to make it feel even stranger, he was watching from his living room couch. It was hard to watch his teammates play on TV, he told Kaplan, especially when he couldn’t communicate with them daily.

While being away from the game, Smith told The Athletic that he knew he made the right decision to stay home. He had never disclosed why he was the only Astros player to opt-out, but it was later reported that his mother had died from Huntington’s disease, making Smith a high-risk individual. The uncertainty of not knowing his medical situation made his decision very clear: he wasn’t going to play in 2020. Smith returned to his mother’s nursing home in Cincinnati, where she passed away in early August.

After the passing of Smith’s mother, he had the idea of returning to the game. He called one of his closest friends in the game, Michael Brantley, but neither thought he would have enough time to build up his arm to make a successful return. And in his time away from baseball, Smith has been very active with his foundation to end Huntington’s disease that is led by him and his wife, Allie LaForce.

Smith will be on the final year of a two-year, $8 million deal he signed with the Astros in 2018, and as a veteran right-hander, he will provide much-needed experience and leadership to a struggling Astros bullpen. In 2019, the sidewinder appeared in 28 games and posted an ERA of 1.80. Smith has appeared in 782 games, which leads the league for active pitchers.

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