Paul C. Smith, a truly likable, talented member of the Tampa-area sports media, died suddenly late Saturday night at the age of 46.
Smith, who admirably covered the Devil Rays for MLB.com and for the official site of the ballclub, is survived by his wife, Martha Van Strander, and the couple's children, son Dale, 15, and daughter, Kelsey, 13.
Smith suffered a broken right ankle in late January and had been on the road to recovery, recently returning to work as Spring Training games drew near. However, Smith was admitted to University Community Hospital at Carrollwood on Saturday for treatment of blood clots.
Smith's wife said after Paul received blood thinners, his condition appeared to be stable, and she returned home around 8 p.m. But just after 11 p.m., it's likely a blood clot broke free and made its way to Smith's lungs.
A memorial service for Paul C. Smith will be held at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday at St. Timothy's Catholic Church, 175512 Lakeshore Rd., Lutz, Fla., 33558.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations to Paul's favorite charities, Corner of Hope Food Pantry, c/o Victoria's Life Church, 6224 Old Pasco Road, Wesley Chapel, FL 33544 and The Joshua House, a home for abused, neglected or abandoned children, P.O. Box 1907, Lutz, FL 33548. In addition, friends of the family have established a trust fund for the benefit of Paul's children. Please contact Karen R. Smith, Esq. for information at 813-835-6109.
News of his passing led to an immediate outpouring of sadness.
"Paul covered the Devil Rays with such enthusiasm, and he maintained such an admirable balance in the way he lived," said Dinn Mann, MLB.com's senior vice president and editor-in-chief. "He was a genuine listener, an attentive friend, a fun, caring, quality human being. Already, he is missed beyond words."
A former sports editor of the Tampa Tribune, Smith was one of the first hires after MLB.com's launch in 2001, becoming one of the foundations for the company's success and growth.
"He gave us instant credibility in Tampa and among colleagues in the industry," Mann said. "To his peers, he was exemplary, wise, creative, reassuring. Paul was multi-talented, a thoughtful manager and writer. But far more meaningful than that, he was a model of kindness and a person with exceptional priorities in his personal life."
Smith had become a fixture, a dependable voice at devilrays.com, and was highly regarded at all levels of the Devil Rays organization.
"We're all devastated," said Chuck LaMar, the Devil Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager. "At his age, with the family he had and the type of person he was, it is gut-wrenching this morning.
"He was a consummate professional, fun to be around, well respected. He was the kind of person you would seek out to have a baseball conversation with. He loved the game. His passing has had an effect on all of us throughout the organization, from our ownership to the front office to the clubhouse.
"It's just so unexpected. For somebody you saw Friday right here in this locker room, and to lose him today. ... Our thoughts are with his family."
Added Devil Rays pitcher Seth McClung, "He was just overall good. There are so many people who have hidden agendas, but Paul never had any agenda with anything. He just wanted to do his job the best he could."
"Paul seemed to enjoy doing his job more than almost anyone else I knew," said Marc Topkin, baseball writer for the St. Petersburg Times. "He just loved being around the team, around the ballpark, around the game.
"He was always upbeat, and he saw the good in everybody," Topkin added. "He was a good journalist and a better person, with everything revolving around his family. He will be missed in many ways."
Marlins reporter Joe Frisaro had worked with Smith longer than other MLB.com colleagues, and also knew him as boss, mentor and friend.
Frisaro was hired by the Tampa Tribune in 1986, while Smith was the paper's executive sports editor, and 16 years later joined MLB.com, largely on Paul's recommendation.
"A devastating loss," Frisaro said, "one that will be felt enormously by everybody he touched. He was a great friend and a tremendous family man. My prayers are with Martha and the children.
"As skilled a writer as he was, he was an even better editor. He may not have liked to hear that, because he had a passion to write, and to write baseball. But as an editor, he ran a sports department with class and professionalism. Paul C. was a gifted person who was always there for anybody who worked with him. If anyone on the staff needed anything, Paul C. was always there. His void will be impossible to fill.
"And he was a great manager, overseeing with care a staff that at its peak numbered 65."
Smith's passionate yet objective approach to his job enabled him to connect with his subjects. As they learned of his death, shocked Devil Rays players expressed their sympathies and interest in doing whatever they could to help the family cope.
"I didn't see Paul as just another member of the media," McClung said. "I got to know Paul real well. I know his daughter loves to play softball. I met his family. I just want them to know we're thinking about them and to stay strong and keep doing the things they love. I'm sure that's what Paul would want."
Family and baseball were teammates with Smith, who often included his wife and children in his day at the Trop or on one road trip a season.
"Paul and I talked almost daily, and I'll always remember the sense of pride in his voice at the mention of his family attending a Rays game and meeting up with him after his work was finished," said Paul Bodi, MLB.com's executive editor for its East Division clubs. "And as we'd go over his travel schedule, he'd point out that he'd sure like to make that trip to Wrigley and Houston (in 2003) or to the West Coast (in 2004) because he wanted to take his family along to see those ballparks."
Smith was a graduate of St. Petersburg Catholic High School and attended the University of South Florida and the University of Florida before starting his newspaper career at the Tallahassee Democrat.
Smith was hired away by the Tribune in 1985. He directed the Tribune's sports staff from 1990-2000 and led coverage of the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa. He also supervised the newspaper's coverage of the area's successful attempts to land expansion franchises in the Devil Rays and NHL's Lightning.
"Paul was a great family man," David Whitley, a former Tribune sports columnist hired by Smith now with The Orlando Sentinel, told the Tribune. "Whether people realize it or not, the Tampa Bay sports scene has just lost a big, happy part. You could always count on seeing him at Devil Rays games, and it's just going to be weird now."
Rick Maas, who succeeded Smith as the senior editor for sports, told the Tribune, "The biggest thing about him was that little mischievous twinkle in his eye and a sense of how much he enjoyed life. He was a super person, and we know what a strong father and family person he was. I can still see him out at places with those big loving arms of his around his kids."
Former Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen told the newspaper Sunday that when he was looking for a daily administrator to run the office in 1990, Smith was an easy choice.
"This is a genuine tragedy," McEwen told the Tribune. "He was a young, vibrant man doing what he wanted to do, and doing it well."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.