After ‘tragic accident,’ Clemson baseball honors 10-year-old fan with roster spot

Mason Smith was Clemson baseball’s biggest fan.

Now, he’s a forever member of the 2024 roster.

Smith, a youth baseball player and budding outdoorsman who tackled each day with kindness, a smile and his trademark red mullet, died on April 13 in an ATV accident in his hometown of Lexington, South Carolina. He was 10 years old.

Now, thanks to coach Erik Bakich and the Clemson baseball program, Smith will be permanently honored on the website of his favorite team.

As of three weeks ago, Smith is listed as an honorary team member on Clemson’s 2024 roster page. He has his own player profile page, too, complete with his favorite jersey number — No. 10, since he did everything in his life with 10/10 effort — and a picture of Smith posing with Clemson’s tiger mascot during a recent baseball game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

A month after Smith attended that Clemson home baseball game against Florida State in late March, the Lexington County coroner’s office confirmed his passing after a “tragic accident” near his home. Local investigators said the ATV Smith was riding had crashed into a tree, per WIS-TV. Another person on the ATV was injured and taken to the hospital.

Bakich, Clemson’s second-year coach, spearheaded the effort to honor Smith after learning about him through a team staffer and personally attending Smith’s memorial service three Sundays ago in Lexington.

“I was just blown away by what type of kid that he was and the impact that he made on so many people,” Bakich told The State. “I mean, he was a boy’s boy. A man’s man. He’s just about all the right things. … It was a no-brainer. This is a kid who was about all the things we would want on our team, in our program. And so we just wanted to make him a part of Team 127.”

Is he ever. In what Bakich described as a “full team effort,” with nods to Clemson baseball chief of staff Brad Owens and sports information director Brian Hennessy, Mason Smith is not only listed on the Tigers roster but listed with exquisite detail — just like outfielder Cam Cannarella and catcher Jimmy Obertop, who are directly above and below him on the numerical roster.

Along with the aforementioned photo and No. 10 jersey number, Smith’s roster page includes his height (4-foot-10), his weight (85 pounds), the positions he played (left-handed pitcher and utility), his hometown (Lexington) and how he batted and threw (left-handed for both).

Owens connected with the Smith family to get the roster information for Mason, and Hennessy arranged it on the team website, Bakich said. In lieu of a formal bio on Smith’s roster page, there’s also a touching tribute, provided by his family. It’s titled “A Southern Boy.”

Mason, the tribute said, is someone who “knows macaroni & cheese is a vegetable. Likes his chicken fried & his biscuits with gravy. Will always consider his dog his first love. Likes fishin’ holes & rope swings. Replies with ‘Yes Sir’ & doesn’t think good manners are a thing of the past. As loyal as the day is long. Loves his Mama and respects his Daddy.”

“The more we can celebrate a special person like Mason, the better,” Bakich said.

A celebration of life

Bakich, whose No. 2 Clemson baseball team is 36-10 and tied for first in the ACC entering the weekend, originally wasn’t going to be able to make Smith’s service.

Clemson was hosting Pittsburgh at home the weekend of April 19-21. The third and final game of the series was scheduled for noon on Sunday. Smith’s celebration of life was scheduled for 2 p.m. the same day in Lexington, which is a 2.5-hour drive.

“But it just so happened that we had a rainout,” Bakich said.

So Clemson dropped its Sunday game in favor of a Saturday double-header. The head coach suddenly had a free afternoon.

He knew exactly how to spend it.

Clemson Head Coach Erik Bakich (middle) during the top of the eighth inning of game 2 with Georgia Tech at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson Friday, May 3, 2024.
Clemson Head Coach Erik Bakich (middle) during the top of the eighth inning of game 2 with Georgia Tech at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson Friday, May 3, 2024.

A father of three himself, Bakich, 46, drove solo to Smith’s service at Mt. Horeb Church in Lexington. The Smith family encouraged people to come to Mason’s service dressed “as he would remember them,” so Bakich wore a Clemson baseball jersey. Others who knew Mason from his hunt club wore camo. School friends were encouraged to wear casual clothes because Mason, his family wrote, would not want to make his buddies put on dress pants and a tie.

The service (which is available to watch in full online) focused on Mason’s favorite things. Hunting, fishing and boating. Country music and Jesus. Playing with his younger sister, Clayton. Snuggling with his mother, Brittni. Working with his father, Michael. “Training” his dogs.

“The people that showed up to the church, there must have been thousands,” Bakich said. “Just the impact this kid made in 10 years and as much life as he lived in 10 years, it’s as much as anyone would want in a full lifetime.”

After the service, Bakich said he met briefly with Mason’s parents, Michael and Brittni, to offer condolences. He brought gifts, too: A baseball bat signed by everyone on the team, and a camouflage No. 10 Clemson baseball jersey. Mason’s number.

“It was perfect,” Bakich said.

10-year-old Mason Smith of Lexington loved baseball and hunting.
10-year-old Mason Smith of Lexington loved baseball and hunting.

‘A truly remarkable kid’

Neither Bakich nor Clemson sought publicity for their actions. An April 26 Facebook post from Shockwave Baseball, Mason’s 10-and-under travel baseball team, initially brought attention to the program’s classy gestures.

“Baseball is bigger than baseball — and this orange stands together strong,” the team, which also wears orange jerseys, wrote in a Facebook post that drew dozens of interactions. “Mason is bringing people to the Lord and to God’s Country! #GoTigers”

Justin Moody, one of Mason’s coaches with Shockwave Baseball and a longtime South Carolina sports fan, added in a post that “Coach Bakich just made it really hard to root against him.”

As Clemson wraps up another successful regular season under Bakich and prepares for the NCAA Tournament, which starts late this month, the Tigers’ coach said it’s an honor for his program to celebrate Smith and “bring even more awareness to what type of kid he was.”

Michael Smith, Mason’s father, wrote on social media last month that “the outpouring of love and kindness from our amazing community and the baseball community has truly been a source of strength for us.” The family has launched The Mason Foundation, which will provide funding to young athletes facing financial barriers for sports participation and has raised nearly $85,000.

And Clemson has launched a permanent roster page for a 10-year-old from Lexington who loved a lot of things, with Tigers baseball right up near the top.

“He’s a truly remarkable kid. And I’m just glad that he’ll have his picture and his bio on our roster forever and ever,” Bakich said.