Lee Smith

Castor, Louisiana

Lee Smith

Castor, Louisiana

Rural Roots 

Rural living comes easily to Lee Smith. He grew up hauling pulpwood for his family’s lumber business and fishing for bluegill and bass in the many ponds and lakes around tiny Castor, about 50 miles southeast of Shreveport. His farm, which he refinanced with Louisiana Land Bank two years ago, includes a cattle operation and 100 acres of planted pines. It borders the railroad tracks where he loaded lumber onto boxcars as a child. His old homeplace is only 3 miles away. 

“Back in those fields are the remains of an old dairy farm,” he said. “My buddies and I used to go over there and clean out the stalls after school.” 

The memories of his growing-up years are important to Lee. As a professional athlete who could’ve opted for a flashy, urban lifestyle, Lee’s connection to home was just too strong to ignore. 

“I am where I am today because of my community,” he said. “There’s no other explanation for it.” 

Preference for Basketball  

As a teenager, Lee focused on basketball with the intention of playing at nearby Northwestern State University and, hopefully, in the NBA. But a local businessman named Bobby Gray — the late grandfather of Louisiana Land Bank’s Joel Gray — encouraged the rangy youngster to switch sports. 

“He kept after me to play baseball,” Lee recalled. “He was persistent about it, and I finally gave in, but for a long time I wasn’t really committed to baseball. I’d take the bus home from school on game days and, if I wasn’t working, I’d go fishing. Meanwhile, Mr. Gray was making up excuses to stall the ballgame. He’d come find me and drag me back. I don’t know what, but he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” 

Young Talent Recognized 

Joel — a loan officer at Louisiana Land Bank’s Shreveport branch and close friend of the Smith family — says his grandfather used baseball as a ministry. 

“He influenced many young guys to become men of character and faith,” Joel said. “Lee was a direct product of this.” 

By the time Lee was 17, his athleticism and raw talent on the mound were attracting attention. Buck O’Neil, the legendary baseball player and Chicago Cubs scout, even visited. 

“That got my dad’s attention,” Lee said. “Buck O’Neil played with Satchel Paige and signed Lou Brock. After he came to the house, Dad said, ‘Well, I guess the boy’s pretty good.’ That was his stamp of approval.” 

A Farmer’s Work Ethic 

After signing with the Cubs in 1975, Lee had a stellar career, but always referred to his rural Louisiana upbringing as his foundation. 

“I think that growing up on the farm built a work ethic in me and the notion to always give people their money’s worth,” he said. “My mom also taught me to treat others the way I wanted to be treated. These things have served me well.” 

During his nearly two decades in the major leagues, Lee kept one foot in Castor, supporting Bienville Parish and helping with community projects where possible. He even built a full-size gymnasium where local kids could not only play basketball, but also practice hitting and pitching. The gym is still in use after 30 years. 

Nowadays, when not “fooling” around with his small herd of Brangus and Charolais cattle, Lee often visits with locals at a nearby general store. 

“There’s a couple of old guys still left from back in the day,” Lee said. “I have to buy them breakfast, because they remind me that I owe them for all those rides to baseball practice. I figure that’s a pretty good bargain.”