Smoltz hits the links, with eye on U.S. Open

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john smoltz headshot red sox.jpgEven though he has yet to find a team interested in his services for the 2010 season, John Smoltz isn’t ready to call it quits. He might, however, be getting a head start on a post-baseball career on the golf course.

Smoltz, a future Hall of Fame pitcher who is working as a broadcaster for MLB Network and Turner Sports while he ponders retiring from baseball, is preparing to play in his first U.S. Open local qualifier next Monday. He’ll be among 9,000-plus golfers playing at 111 different courses, all with a dream of playing in the U.S. Open.

If he makes it out of the first round, he’ll compete in a 36-hole sectional qualifier event held at 33 different courses on June 7. Only a few from that round will play in the U.S. Open.
Smoltz, 43, tells Mark Bowman of MLB.com that he doesn’t expect to be among the handful of players to end up qualifying for the major.

But he’s no slouch as a golfer, and he’s taking it very seriously as valuable experience in his goal to someday play on the Champions Tour.

“The other day somebody asked what I thought my chances of qualifying were and I said, ‘They’re impossible,” Smoltz said. “But I still feel like I can do something neat.”

With a 2-handicap and the confidence created by multiple rounds of 65 that he has completed this year, Smoltz will tee off at the Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., next week with the understanding that he is at least capable of advancing to the next round.

“I want to see what it’s like,” Smoltz said. “Maybe I’ll throw a strange number out there and then see what happens. It’s really just an experience. This year, I really haven’t been able to wake up and gear up to compete like this. It’s going to be fun. “

Smoltz is correct in thinking his chances of qualifying for the U.S. Open are highly unlikely. He’ll be facing a field filled with college stars, club pros, seasoned players who have lost their PGA Tour cards … guys who play golf all the time.

Smoltz has handled the big stage plenty of times in his baseball career, but this is – literally – a whole new ball game. Still, I’ll be rooting for him to do well. After all, his attempt will be much cooler than this.

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Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.