She has never hit a curve ball or stolen a base. Never made a diving catch or turned a double play.

But Janet Marie Smith, who grew up in Jackson and is a proud member of Callaway High School’s Class of 1975, earned two World Series rings as a senior vice president for planning and development with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007.

And she may have hit the most important home run, figuratively speaking, in franchise history by rescuing 103-year-old Fenway Park from demolition.

“It was like resurrecting a corpse that had already turned blue,” laughs Smith, 57, who earned an architecture degree from Mississippi State in 1981 and a master’s in urban planning from City College of New York in 1984. “Every year, the Red Sox wanted a new ballpark. And who could blame them? Every city was getting one.”

She saved it by reminding team officials and fans what was wonderful about it, while making “the not so sexy changes that were crucial,” she says. Doubling the size of the restrooms. Expanding concourses. Updating concession stands to where fans could buy freshly cooked food.

Who’s to say those championship teams, fueled by the 37,000-plus fans who packed the place every night, would have played with the same grit and confidence in a shiny new home?  Who’s to say the 2004 Red Sox would have somehow rallied to win two extra-inning games anywhere except ghostly Fenway to extend the American League Championship Series and eventually dispose of the hated New York Yankees?

Without question, Fenway had a hand in the magic that delivered Boston’s first World Series title in 86 years.

That alone makes Janet Marie Smith a baseball hero.

But here’s the thing: She already was one.


Smith calls it “my baby.”

She is referring to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles’ home since 1992. It was the first ballpark built in a city’s downtown district since the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field in 1913.

Camden Yards has served as a model for nearly every Major League park built since its debut.

It embraced the city’s culture with a view of the neighborhood beyond the outfield walls, broke the cycle of the round, cookie-cutter stadiums built to serve pro baseball and football teams, and provided older nostalgic fans with a trip back in time while connecting younger fans with an urban environment.

This was the sort of ballpark in which Babe Ruth would have launched home runs during an era when baseball was America’s game and no other sport was a close second.

On Opening Day 2012, when the Orioles were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards, manager Buck Showalter told ESPN writer Tim Kurkijan, “It has never tried to be something that it’s not. There was nothing fake about it. There are no hills in center field. They didn’t copy anyone. As soon as you walked in, it had that cathedral feeling. You thought immediately, ‘This place will stand the test of time.’ ”

When asked how she came to lead the development of the park, Smith shakes her head and says, “I got so lucky.”

Always a fan of the game, Smith wanted to see the Orioles play in 1988 — not because they were a great team but because they were on the way to losing 107 games. Plus, she had never visited Baltimore and wanted to explore it.

She attended a game at Memorial Stadium. While talking with fans seated beside her, Smith learned the Orioles were making plans to build a new ballpark downtown.

“It took me a few days, but I suddenly realized that was the project I’d been looking for,” she says. “If the Orioles were going to move downtown, I felt like it would be a great way to use what I had studied — architecture and urban planning.”

She wrote Orioles president Larry Lucchino a letter and followed with “a couple of phone calls … OK, maybe 20,” she laughs. “But we talked, and he kept saying, ‘Don’t use the ’s’ word — stadium. I want a real ballpark.’ And I think he could tell that I ‘got it.’ I understood what he wanted.”

In 1989, Lucchino hired Smith as the project’s architectural consultant. She led an effort to incorporate the old with the new and hopefully build a park that would become as cherished as Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field some day. Home plate from Memorial Stadium was installed at Camden Yards. So was the right field foul pole.

One question loomed? What should they do with the vacant brick warehouse, once owned by B&O railroad, that towered above the right field fence, 500 feet from home plate? Some wanted to tear it down.

Smith fought to keep it.

“Supposedly, it’s the longest building (1,116 feet) east of the Mississippi (River),” she says. “It was part of the neighborhood, and had been since 1900 or so.”

That warehouse turned out to be the signature feature of Camden Yards. Today, it houses the team’s executive offices and remains a target for sluggers. No batter has hit a ball off it in a game, although Ken Griffey Jr. managed to reach it during batting practice.

From there, Smith’s career as “the woman who designs Major League ballparks” took off.

Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten hired her in 1994 to lead the conversion of Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium into a baseball park that would become known as Turner Field.

After Lucchino moved to the Red Sox as president, he brought Smith to Boston in 2002 to lead the renovation of Fenway Park. She returned to Baltimore in 2009 to oversee a minor facelift of Camden Yards.

In 2012, Smith accepted the position of senior vice president for planning and development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a position she holds today. And once again she’s working for Kasten, president and part owner of the Dodgers. He called Smith “my best off-season acquisition.”

“I’ve worked for four teams but was hired by two people — Larry Lucchino and Stan Kasten,” she says. “Like I said, there has been a lot of luck involved.”

As the old saying goes, luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.

In his book “A Nice Little Place on the North Side,” saluting the Cubs’ Wrigley Field turning 100 in 2014, author and baseball historian George Will writes, “The three most important things that have happened in baseball since the second World War was Jackie Robinson taking the field in Brooklyn in 1947, free agency arriving in 1975 and Oriole Park at Camden Yards opening in 1992 … Major League Baseball owes a debt to a willowy woman from Mississippi. To those who said, ‘You can’t turn back the clock,’ Janet Marie Smith said, ‘Well, we’ll just see about that.’ ”


She chose a college — Mississippi State — before deciding on a major.

When she visited State to look at possible career paths, she visited the art department but found it “too passive and isolated.” She attended a statistics class at the engineering school “and left bug-eyed … I knew that wasn’t for me.”

Then she went to the school of architecture, and “they were building models and doing all this fun stuff. The energy in there was palpable. I was sold.”

Looking back, it wasn’t all that surprising. Her father, the late Thomas Henry Smith, was a respected architect in Jackson and was among a group that helped start the architectural program at MSU.

“Of course, his career had an impact on me, but so did my mom (Nellie),” Smith says. “She worked at (the University of Mississippi Medical Center) in medical records. It was a job that requires a master’s degree these days. She stayed home with me and my sister (Susan) until we were well into elementary school. My father told her she didn’t have to go back, but it really stuck with me when she said, ‘No, I want to work.’ ”

Smith, who is married and the mother of three sons ranging in age from 17 to 21, loved growing up in Mississippi, and specifically Jackson. She never fails to lend her home state a hand when possible. She flew overnight from the Dominican Republic to speak Thursday to junior high and high school students at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s annual Women In Sports Day.

“And I love it when people ask me where I’m from,” she says, “because every time I say ‘Mississippi’ I never get a blank stare. People always have something to say — and so do I.”

In return, many Mississippians realize what an incredible ambassador she is for the state.

“Janet is pure genius when it comes to baseball stadiums,” says Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, a former Mississippi governor and an avid Red Sox fan. “She is the Picasso of the ballpark and has single handedly brought going to a ball game back to being a more personal and unique experience.”

Says Nashville attorney Marsh Nichols, a Jackson native who became close friends with Smith at MSU: “She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. She’ll be (in the Baseball Hall of Fame) at Cooperstown before it’s all over.”

And Malcolm White, director of Visit Mississippi and one of the state’s most tireless promoters, says of Smith: “She is brilliant, driven, devoted and one of our brightest stars that most sports fans do not know.

“When baseball fans brag about the revitalization of the great American ballparks like Camden Yards or Fenway Park, I smugly nod and say under my breath, ‘Mississippi.’ To paraphrase what Miss (Eudora) Welty used to say, Janet Marie ‘works quietly underfoot’ in a high stakes, multibillion-dollar industry known simply as baseball.

“She has crafted a highly successful and creative scorecard.”

Contact Billy Watkins at (769) 257-3079 or Follow @BillyWatkins11 on Twitter.