The opportunity was one Jason Smith simply couldn't pass up.
A sophomore pitcher at Black Hawk College, Smith agreed Thursday to sign with the Washington Nationals organization as a non-drafted free agent and will report to the club's spring training facility in Viera, Fla., next week.
Smith, the 2009 Quad-City Times Male Athlete of the Year as a senior at Morrison, caught the attention of the Nationals after participating in a recent tryout camp and received an offer by phone Wednesday after the conclusion of baseball's free-agent draft.
"You never know if the chance is ever going to come around again," Smith said. "Playing pro ball has been my dream. It was a decision I had to make and I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm anxious to get to Florida and get started."
Before agreeing to board a plane for the first time in his life and begin a new chapter of his baseball career, Smith had a decision to make. He had previously signed a letter of intent to continue his career at North Carolina-Pembroke.
"It came down not knowing if the opportunity would ever be there again,'' Smith said.
Smith spoke with former Black Hawk pitcher Matt Swynenberg, now working his way through the Nationals' minor-league system, before reaching his decision.
"We talked about the plusses and minuses of pro ball, but he told me at the end of the day it was my decision,'' Smith said. "I had to go with my gut feeling.''
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Smith finished 5-3 with a 3.92 ERA last season at Black Hawk, striking out 35 batters and walking 20 over 43.2 innings of work.
"His fastball now tops out around 90, 91 miles per hour, he has a good curve and is developing his change-up,'' Braves coach Arnie Chavera said. "He threw six innings a year ago at Western Illinois before coming to us, so he's still raw but he has good velocity and a good, high ceiling.''
Smith believes his experience at Black Hawk provided him with the chance.
"The velocity on my fastball went up 3, 4 miles per hour after just a couple of months,'' Smith said. "They've worked with me to add weight, which is something I need to continue to do, but going to Black Hawk was the best decision I've made.''
Smith is one of two pitchers from a 44-9 Braves team to receive attention during draft week. Right-hander Chris Burgess (5-3, 1.89) was selected by Tampa Bay in the 30th round and is currently deciding whether to sign or pursue several NCAA Division I collegiate opportunities.