Former South Carolina baseball star Justin Smoak has canceled his season in Japan.
The reason? To return home to his family in the Lowcountry.
“His love for family outweighed everything else,” a Yomiuri Giants official told the Japan Times.
Smoak, 34, surprised his two young daughters in a homecoming video his wife Kristin posted on social media.
So Justin made a terribly difficult decision. It became apparent that we would not be able to reach Japan anytime soon – if at all. With the support and understanding from the team (which was just great for our family), he decided to come home. For this reason. pic.twitter.com/8wtzAP9FDN
– Kristin Smoak (@KristinSmoak) June 18, 2021
“So Justin made a terribly difficult decision,” wrote Kristin on June 18 on Twitter. âIt became clear that we wouldn’t be coming to Japan anytime soon – if at all. So with the support and understanding from the team (which were just great for our family) he decided to come home. For this reason.”
After an 11-year career in Major League Baseball, the Goose Creek native and Stratford High School graduate signed a $ 6 million contract to play two seasons in Japan. In 34 games he beat .272 with seven home runs and 14 RBI.
But part of the plan for the Smoaks was a family adventure in Japan, a chance to experience another country and culture together. The coronavirus pandemic had different ideas.
“It was about the kind of experience we were going to have, as well as any kind of contract or something,” said Kristin. “That’s what we were looking forward to the most.”
Justin traveled to Japan early to complete a 14-day quarantine before he could start playing, but the family was not allowed to travel. He was there alone for about three months.
“Before he left, we had a conversation about ‘Shall we do this?'” Said Kristin. “But he had an obligation and we decided he would go and try.”
Despite repeated calls to the US consulate, it became clear that the Smoak girls would not be able to join Justin in Japan.
“Ultimately, Justin is very attached to our girls,” said Kristin. “And we’ve just decided it’s no longer right for our family.”
A tough part for Justin: Understanding that this could mean the end of a career that spanned five MLB teams and 196 career home runs and 570 RBI. In 2017, he beat .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI for Toronto and was the first first baseman for the American League in the All-Star Game.
“That was the hardest part for him,” said Kristin, “what it could mean for his career, knowing that things are done. And we don’t really know. But the Giants told him, please go next.” And this is an opportunity that we would not close now if it did arise.
“Fortunately, he’s built very good relationships throughout his career and he could get involved in one way or another, even if it’s not as a player.”
Justin Smoak made a statement to apologize to Giants fans and teammates.
“It was hard for me that my family couldn’t come to Japan because of the new coronavirus, so I decided to go back to the United States and spend quality time with my family,” he said. “I’m sorry for my team-mates and fans who play hard … I am grateful to the team, including the director, for their kindness.”
Giants fans seemed to understand the reactions to Kristin Smoak’s video.
“Thanks for Justin Smoak’s excitement … Please come to Japan with your family this time. We are always waiting for you,” wrote one fan.
Contact Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow @Jeff_fromthePC on Twitter