Baseball is a statistics-driven game and Charlotte 49ers redshirt senior pitcher Andrew Smith's numbers match up with the best of them.
Smith had one of the best seasons ever for a 49ers pitcher in 2011, going 10-4 and posting a 1.81 ERA that was the second lowest in program history.
His three shutouts also tied for second most for a 49ers pitcher.
But there's something behind those numbers with Smith, the ace of a staff that is considered the finest in the Atlantic 10. He'll be on the mound today when the 49ers open their season with a four-game weekend against Saint Peter's at Hayes Stadium.
"I don't know if I've ever been around a tougher kid - physically and mentally," said Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs. "He's prepared the right way. And I don't think I've ever seen a player with a higher pain tolerance than Andrew's."
In 2009, a pain in Smith's right elbow was such that he couldn't straighten his arm. He'd pitched with it for much of the season, but his doctor told him he would need reconstructive "Tommy John" surgery in the summer.
The doctor also told Smith he couldn't do any more damage to the elbow, whether he continued to pitch or not.
That was all Smith needed to hear.
The elbow hurt, but the 49ers had a game against North Carolina coming up, and he figured that would be a good way for him to finish out the year.
"He said, 'Coach, I'm gonna have surgery anyway and the doctors said I can't hurt it any more, so let me pitch,' " Hibbs recalled. "I mean, the elbow was basically done."
Hibbs talked to the team's trainer and Smith's doctor. They confirmed that Smith could do no more damage to the elbow.
So Smith pitched against the Tar Heels, going 4 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs, while striking out four and walking three. The Tar Heels won 4-1.
"He had to go with an 83 (mph) fastball and a changeup," said Hibbs. "But that speaks volumes."
Smith, who is from Matthews and attended Butler High, red-shirted in 2010 as he rehabilitated from the surgery. He then emerged as one of college baseball's top pitchers last season, helping the 49ers to the Atlantic 10 championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament, where they beat Arkansas before falling to Arizona State and the Razorbacks. This winter, he's been named to at least three preseason All-America teams this winter.
Smith said his toughness - or at least his ability to ignore pain - comes from a natural competitiveness.
"You grow up, and there's always someone better than you and who you're competing with," said Smith. "If you want to get to the very top, you have somebody who's always pushing you."