Smoltz pitched for the Glens Falls, NY franchise, then a Detroit Tigers’ affiliate, for much of the 1987 season, and there has been much made locally of his time there. But, there’s a lot more to Smoltz’ local connection than that. The Hall of Famer’s roots in Glens Falls, and a local bond, began two years before he ever landed in Glens Falls.
It was 1985 and Smoltz was a member of the USA’s 18-under age-level entry in the Junior World Championship Tournament played that August at Heritage Park in Colonie, NY. Local organizers, let’s say, weren’t entirely organized. Teams began arriving to discover housing accommodations hadn’t been made. Joe Vellano, the president of Latham-based Vellano Bros., a waterworks supply company, remembers getting a phone call from tournament officials not long before its first game looking for host families.
Vellano, who lives in Scotia, NY took in four players, including Smoltz and two other future major leaguers, Scott Servais and Rheal Cormier. Some of the teams held pre-tournament workouts at Scotia and Rotterdam Little League fields. Smoltz did some pitching off the mounds at both facilities.
Smoltz was just the best young guy. He was very polite, very respectful. He was a good guy, a really good kid. You wanted him to succeed.
A month after playing in the Albany tournament, Smoltz signed a professional contract with the Tigers’ organization. His first pro year was 1986 with Lakeland in the Single A-level Florida State League. He was in Glens Falls for most of the 1987 season, struggling with control (81 walks in 135 innings).
And, that wasn’t all he was struggling with. He was 19 years old, the youngest player on the Glens Falls roster and trying to adjust socially. “I got a call from someone with the Glens Falls franchise who knew me and asked me if John could spend some time with us to be more comfortable,” says Vellano. So, Smoltz became part of Vellano’s Scotia homestead once again.
“I’d go up on the days he pitched and, then, bring him home with me,” says Vellano. “He’d stay that night and the next day and night before he went back up to Glens Falls.”
Vellano portrays Smoltz, back then, as a big, happy kid, enjoying the company of Vellano’s four young children. “He’d sit on our couch playing video games with our kids,” says Penny Vellano. “We have some pictures around of our son Adam (then nine years old) sitting on John’s lap while he played the games.”
On days in Scotia, on hiatus from the Glens Falls franchise, Smoltz often accompanied the Vellano clan to Little League games. “He was just comfortable being around our family,” adds Vellano.