30 Years in the makingFormer minor leaguer Brian Sprout gets shot as first-year head coach
By: Patrick Johnson, South Washington County Bulletin
Brian Sprout always wanted to be a baseball coach.
This year, he’s getting his chance.
Sprout, a two-time All-American player at St. Olaf College who spent seven years in the minor leagues, is a high school head coach for the first time this spring at East Ridge.
Sprout said he wanted to be a baseball coach since he was a little kid.
“I knew eventually I was going to be a coach, so every chance I got to learn something different I took it,” Sprout said. “I tried to pick up different things from all kinds of guys everywhere. I knew I’d need to know those things sooner or later, so I paid attention and picked a lot of things up.”
Sprout’s dad, Jim, coached him, along with his brother and sister, when he was growing up, which made him want to be a coach too.
“My Dad was always there,” Sprout said. “He and my mom rarely ever missed a game, even through college. My dad ran all the youth programs and was an umpire at a lot of my games. That made things interesting when we got home. He was always challenging me.”
Most recently, Sprout spent three years as an assistant coach at Mounds View.
“I’ve been wanting to coach for a long time,” Sprout said. “Playing myself and doing some other things just never allowed for it. I got some good experience up at Mounds View.”
Sprout, 30, claimed to learn a lot from Mounds View head coach Mark Downey, who he said, “showed him the ropes.”
“I’ve always been really organized and focused on the details,” Sprout said. “But, Mark put a lot of it in a baseball sense for me. I got to see what he did day-in and day-out and saw a lot of things I wasn’t privy to before that.”
Downey, who is entering his fourth year with the Mustangs, said Sprout is “no question” ready to be a head coach.
“He’ll do great,” Downey said. “He understands the game extremely well. He’ll command the respect of his players. He’s going to clearly define the expectations and hold them accountable to those. He’s always been a kid who worked really hard for things. He’s a great athlete, obviously, but more than that, he’s been a student of the game and worked very hard at it. I’m sure he’ll expect that work ethic from his players too.”
A graduate of Lake City High School and St. Olaf College, Sprout played two plus years in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, and, most recently, three seasons with the St. Paul Saints where he was a two-time all star.
In college, Sprout was a three time Conference Player of the Year while at St. Olaf, where he helped the Oles to three Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and earned conference Player of the Year honors three times.
However, perhaps more impressive was this: In a 2002 game, he achieved a very rare feat by hitting a solo home run, a two-run homer, a three-run homer and a grand slam.
Sprout’s last year playing for the Saints was in 2008, when he hit .202 in 26 games played. However, in 2007 he hit .304 with seven home runs, 52 RBI, 64 runs and 111 hits in 96 games and in 2006, he hit .350 with 10 home runs, 59 RBI and 64 runs and 118 hits in his 91 games with the Saints.
When asked why he decided to hang up his spikes, Sprout said, “it was time.”
“The Saints and I both knew it,” he said. “I called it quits and we moved on. I always want to win and I want to compete. The Saints allowed me to do that and stay close to home for a few years. But, it got to a point where I had to do something else, because it was starting to wear on me and my family, too.”
Sprout teaches Social Studies at Oltman Middle School and lives in the district with his wife, Lynn and their three-month-old son Ryne — named for Sprout’s idol, Chicago Cubs icon Ryne Sandberg.
Sandberg is known as one of the classiest players in baseball’s history.
“He played the game the right way and he was quiet about it while he did it,” Sprout said. “That was my goal the whole time.”
Downey said Sprout’s background will come in handy as a coach, but what is most important is what kind of person he is.
“Brian is a great guy,” Downey said. “He is a high-character guy and a family guy. I think he’s going to be a very good role model for the kids there, first and foremost, because at the end of the day high school sports is about learning about working hard, winning and losing and learning life lessons.”
Downey said it’s fun to see guys move on.
“It’s not like I mentored him along to be ready for this,” Downey said. “He’s been ready for two or three years.” But, it’s great to work with guys and see them move on to do their own thing. Obviously, it’s an impact to me, because I have to replace him, but I’m certainly excited and happy for him. But, it’s not like he learned everything from me. I was just one guy along the way that maybe he got a little perspective from. He got a lot of perspectives from a lot of people too.”
One of those mentors was Dodgers legend Maury Wills, who coached Sprout for two years when he played for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the Northern League.
Wills is a former shortstop and switch-hitter who, in his 14-year major league career, played most prominently with the Dodgers, where he was a key component of the Dodgers’ championship teams in the mid-1960s.
“He taught me a lot of the little things, while I was with them,” Sprout said. “It’s those guys that take that extra 30 or 40 minutes to work with you and show you things and show you that they care.”
Sprout said this season will be a challenge without seniors, but that he is impressed with the players on the team, saying he had, “a bunch of ball players.”
Sprout expects the team to win more games than some may expect, but that the Raptors are going to have to do “the little things” to do so.
“We have to focus on the details every day,” Sprout said. “If we do that, we’re going to win ballgames. But, whether we win them or lose them isn’t going to be my sole focus. I want to win, but we need to look at doing all the little things right — on and off the field — in order to better ourselves.
“The kids and parents have been there all along with high expectations. I have those myself. Hopefully, we can live up to those this year and in the years going forward.”