When you walk into the manager’s office at Bank of the James Stadium, you will not be taken aback by a massive collection of memorabilia or trophies. Instead, you will be met with a quaint space that fosters a welcoming environment for all.
The office is a quiet, unassuming room just off the back of the clubhouse. The only door in or out is through the players’ locker room making it easily accessible for all players to visit.
In the back-right corner, there is a small desk covered with family photos and branding from churches. On the left wall, there is a collection of sneakers surrounded by old manager uniforms. If you blink, you might not spot the former playing garb.
Right next to the door, there is a coffee table that is perfect for meetings. Surrounding the table are a couple of comfortable, reclining office chairs eagerly awaiting the next office visitors. That’s how Jordan Smith, the manager of the Lynchburg Hillcats, prefers it.
He has never wanted the focus to be on himself. When talking with Smith, he will likely be more interested in what you have to say, as opposed to what he has on his mind. As an interviewee, he might even ask more questions to the interviewer.
Smith has always been more invested in personal relationships than the recognition that comes with winning or accolades. He makes it clear to everyone through his actions where his priorities lie: God, family and his relationships with others.
In order to live a people-first lifestyle though, Smith has prioritized his relationship with God.
Smith finds faith as an essential pillar to his life, as he sees God as the light that guides his marriage and family. He frequently strives to remind his players that while Christ gave them incredible talents for a reason, baseball is just one potential outlet to honor the Lord.
“At the end of the day, there's much more to this life than baseball,” Smith said. “So just really reminding them that he has a plan for your life, live to your fullest potential and honor him in your actions. Use these gifts to honor him and show him glory.”
Smith even organizes Sunday Bible studies for the team. Nate Furman, a former Hillcats second baseman, said Smith’s willingness to help out anyone in their faith journey is part of what makes his former coach such an aware and grounded individual.
“His faith is so much of his foundation that even with everything he goes through, he knows he's gonna get through the other side,” Furman said. “Everything that he does, he knows that there’s a bigger purpose for him.”
While faith is a very important component of Smith’s life, family isn’t far behind. His wife and two kids travel with the team to every away series. Smith said while a “traveling circus lifestyle” can be chaotic, he has enjoyed the many memories made on the road with his family.
During the away series, Furman said he has been able to witness the Smith family dynamic in action. If Furman ends up on the same path as his former coach, he hopes to be in a similar position.
“When I get older, if I coach, that's the kind of situation that I would want to have,” Furman said. “It's just a special thing that he has going on.”
Even after a successful, decade-long career in Minor League Baseball, Smith was never caught up in the big moments that came with his dream job.
“I wanted to be a good teammate and have fun,” Smith said. “It was never about individual stats, honestly, I went out there and I loved playing the game.”
His selfless mindset and ability to connect with anyone made the decision to pursue a career in coaching an easy choice. Since hanging up the bat in 2018, the former outfielder has spent the last five years in different coaching positions throughout the Cleveland Guardians organization.
Smith’s outlook on ideas bigger than the game might have played a role in extending his baseball career well beyond his playing days.
Furman recalled a moment when Smith told the team his most memorable moments from pro ball were the ‘little things,’ such as hanging out with teammates after the games. Smith emphasized how easy it can be to get caught up in the intense 132-game grind of a minor league season.
“That was a moment when I was like, man, that's really cool,” Furman said. “It reminded me that we have the opportunity to do a job where we play baseball every single day.”
A couple of weeks into the 2023 season, Furman endured a playing stretch where he was underperforming in comparison to his normal standards. He said his poor play made spirits lower than usual throughout the locker room. However, Smith’s messaging from earlier in the year quickly sparked an idea that Furman and teammate Guy Lipscomb quickly put into action.
“I was like dude, throw on the speaker, throw on some country music,” Furman said. “I mean I was struggling a little bit, Guy [Lipscomb] was struggling a little bit, but I just said let's just hang out, let’s play some music. And we were playing the music so loud. The coaches were coming in, and even they were enjoying the music.”
Furman said having memories like that is what made him grateful to have Smith as a manager. He believes he might not have felt as empowered to enjoy those moments on another team, but because he had the “ultimate player’s coach,” Furman felt like an integral piece of the Hillcats’ culture.
Smith said while professionalism and high effort are attributes he wants all of his players to exhibit, his main role is to guide a player's development, which can help them to ascend the ranks of pro ball. He believes one of the most rewarding feelings as a coach is seeing a player have an aha moment.
“When you see the light come on for a player when something they're working isn’t quite sticking and then it just all clicks,” Smith said. “Then it carries into the game. They have that on-field success, and basically, that can jump-start their career and get them skyrocketing. Potentially to the big leagues, but that's the best feeling, and then their career takes off for the better.”
Smith described those aha moments as micro-wins. He said Furman was a prime example of a player who was able to handle any challenge thrown his way.
“He really applied himself,” Smith said. “He was definitely someone that did a lot of buying in and went about his business the right way and just was very professional.”
Furman’s success in Lynchburg recently earned him a call-up to the Lake County Captains, which is the Cleveland Guardians’ high-A affiliate team. Coincidentally, one of Smith’s most successful playing seasons occurred when he played for Lake County and batted .316 with nine home runs and 74 RBIs in 2012.
Furman said transparency and honesty are two characteristics Smith exuded. He believes critical feedback from his former manager in moments when he wasn’t executing correctly on the field helped to vastly improve his game.
“We had a great relationship,” Furman said. “I was able to go out every day and just play knowing that he had my back. If I was doing something that they didn't like, I would know about it for sure.”
Smith said he expects his players to honor his time by buying into practices he and his staff have created. While some days are spent putting out fires, Smith believes that strong, developmental days where his players find themselves one step closer to their ultimate dreams is what makes being a coach all worth it.
“You see these guys get better, you see them improve, you see them reach their goals, whether it's a daily thing or it's getting to the big leagues,” Smith said. “It's just fun to invest in young men.”