Cal Poly baseball legend Ozzie Smith returned for the re-dedication of his statue on Saturday, 20 years after it was unveiled at Baggett Stadium.
The first-ballot MLB Hall of Famer played for the Mustangs from 1974 to 1977, before going onto a 19-year professional baseball career, first as a shortstop for the San Diego Padres, then for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Known as “the Wizard of Oz” and regarded by many as the best defensive shortstop of all time, Smith was a World Series champion in 1982, a 15-time all-star and the winner of 13 Gold Glove Awards.
“To have a statue as a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I never dreamed of having a statue and a plaza named after (myself),” Smith said. “That happens for movie stars and great people, and I never looked at myself in that way.”
The rededication was held after the university invested $1.3 million to upgrade Ozzie Smith Plaza, including by installing “a new press box, ticket booth, entry arches, fencing, landscaping and a new home for the Ozzie Smith statue, sitting upon a baseball with appropriate uplighting, to present one of Cal Poly’s most successful athlete alumni,” according to a news release.
Many Cal Poly baseball alumni also returned for the occasion, including some of Smith’s teammates.
“The thing you miss the most is the camaraderie, the road trips, the flights,” Smith said. “The road to the big leagues, it’s always been difficult, so you remember all of those times.”
In his speech on Saturday, Smith recalled a time while playing summer ball when he also worked a job in construction, operating a jackhammer during the day and then playing at night.
“It’s one of those things that I think strengthens you as a person,” he said.
Ozzie Smith hold multiple Cal Poly baseball records
Smith didn’t find success right away as a Mustang.
A walk-on player under Head Coach Berdy Harr, he was inserted into the lineup after the starting shortstop went down with a season-ending injury.
He took advantage of the opportunity and now holds the school record for career at-bats (754) and stolen bases (110) as well as being named to the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987.
“No success comes without some blood and sweat and tears, and those are some of the lessons that I learned here (at Cal Poly) early on,” Smith said.
For Smith, the statue solidified to him that he “had an impact.”
“I think all of us are just looking to have a positive impact on whatever it is you do in your life,” Smith said. “This is certainly one of the highlights for me. Even being able to come back here ... where you have so many of your ex-teammates come out and spend some time with you and we have a chance to reminisce about the good old days.”
As part of the festivities, Smith visited with current Cal Poly players, signed autographs and threw out the first pitch at the Mustangs’ game against UC Irvine.