PORT ST. LUCIE — Dominic Smith’s worst day this offseason occurred Jan. 26, when he heard the news his childhood hero was dead in a helicopter crash.

Growing up in Los Angeles and loving basketball almost as much as baseball, Smith couldn’t help but idolize Kobe Bryant, who became so much more to the city than just a gifted athlete and Lakers icon.

“He did so much for the community, he started an academy, it sucks,” Smith said before a recent spring training workout with the Mets.

Smith never got the opportunity to meet Bryant. Their closest encounter occurred in August 2017, when Smith was promoted to the Mets for the first time. Among the well-wishers was Bryant, who made a video that was sent to Smith. And after Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people were killed in the helicopter crash in Southern California last month, Smith posted the video on his Instagram page.

“Kobe told me ‘congratulations’ and it was kind of epic stuff,” Smith said. “That meant a lot, and it sucks that I didn’t get to sit down and talk to him. It sucks the way everything happened, because he was such a great person.

Dominic Smith and Kobe Bryant
Dominic Smith and Kobe BryantAnthony J. Causi; Getty Images

“I know a ton of people who knew him. He was the best, a great guy. He was a father, that is the biggest thing, he cared about kids. He just wanted to help people and be the best. Be the best athlete, be the best person, be the best human being you could possibly be.”

Arriving in Florida for the start of camp, Smith still was dealing with the aftershock of Bryant’s death.

“I was sick to my stomach, I was very sad,” Smith said. “I’m still sad. It took me about a week to kind of numb the pain, because you couldn’t get away from it. It was all over social media, it was all over TV, so to just constantly be reminded, the death of a person or all the people who were great people on that flight, it was just a sad day. Anybody who dies, it’s going to be a sad day, but the way they died it’s just so sad.”

Smith now turns to his job, as he attempts to resume at the level he reached in the first half of last season, before a stress fracture in his left foot relegated him to riding a motorized scooter around the Mets clubhouse and serving as a team cheerleader.

In a breakout half-season, Smith had a slash line of .282/.355/.525, with 11 homers in only 177 at-bats. Now a left-fielder (in a crowded mix), following Pete Alonso’s emergence at first base, the 24-year-old Smith isn’t exactly sure how he fits, but he says he’s ready for any opportunity presented to him.

“We know we have so much talent that no matter who gets plugged in where, we all feel confident in each other that one of us will get the job done,” said Smith, who figures to share time in left with J.D. Davis and potentially Yoenis Cespedes. “We push each other because we all know we’re going to get enough time to show what we can do and with our success that is going to determine what the team does, so we want each other to do well because if we all do well we’ll get to our goal, which is to get to the playoffs and the World Series.”

Smith’s offseason focus was improving his outfield footwork. In an attempt to get faster, he hired a trainer who specializes in running technique and speed. Smith discovered he needed to lengthen his strides.

“Even around the bases my strides were just too short,” Smith said. “I wanted to work on lengthening my stride, and if I lengthen my stride I will be able to cover more ground, more efficiently, more evenly and I will get to more balls that way. I really wanted to work on my stride and looking up while I am running, kind of like a wide receiver. I accomplished those things and I am excited to see what I can do in spring and carry it into the season.”