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Rings are important in the Sprague household of Stockton.
Ed Sprague Jr. owns two World Series rings in baseball when he was playing third base for the Toronto Blue Jays. His wife, Kristen Babb-Sprague, has Olympic rings imprinted on the gold medal she won in solo synchronized swimming at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Their son, Jed, is entering his senior year at St. Mary’s of Stockton. When he was younger, he competed in local swimming meets and was very promising. But now Jed is focused on following in dad’s footsteps and is looking to take some big steps forward beginning Monday at the Area Code Games in Long Beach.
In June, Sprague tried out for a spot on the Oakland Athletics’ squad near his home at Banner Island Ballpark (home of the Stockton Ports) and despite the presence of a strong group of invitees (many from a loaded class of prospects from the Fresno area) he was selected to be on the Athletics’ Area Code team.
“I think the best part of Area Code is getting to play against the best competition,” said Sprague, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound first baseman. “I love going against the best of the best and I love to face guys who throw hard.”
At St. Mary’s, playing the strongest schedule possible also has been a trademark. It helped the Rams win three straight CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I titles from 2010 to 2012 and helped them get to the finals once again last season.
The strong competition also is one reason why Sprague’s modest stats from last spring, a .240 batting average with 35 RBIs, meant nothing when it came to making an Area Code team.
Some of his outings still stood out against some of that top competition, too. In an early season game against Mater Dei of Santa Ana (which was No. 1 in the nation for much of the season), Sprague went 2-for-3 and drove in the game’s only run in a 1-0 win by the Rams. He also had the team’s only RBI in their 10-1 loss to Elk Grove that ended the season.
The team’s late surge, which brought it back from a 3-10 start to a 20-15 final record, gave Sprague more confidence entering the summer and should pay dividends next season when the Rams will have most of their roster back.
“We went on a great run, but we lost to a lot of great teams,” Sprague said. “We know what we did gives us motivation for next season. We went the farthest we could go in the playoffs, but we didn’t win and that left a bad taste in our mouths.”
Even if Sprague does well at Area Code and earns numerous accolades for his senior season, he’ll still have a long way to go to match his father’s career. Ed Jr. went on from St. Mary’s to play for two NCAA championship teams at Stanford and got an Olympic gold medal himself in baseball in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea. He was a first-round pick in the 1988 MLB Draft by the Blue Jays and was a key player at third base when the team won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. In Game 2 of the ’92 series against the Atlanta Braves, Sprague hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning.
St. Mary’s has other alums who have played in the major leagues, such as outfielder Von Hayes, infielder Jason Bartlett and pitcher Barry Enright, but Sprague had the best career among all of them and probably among any former high school players from Stockton.
“I used to put pressure on myself about it, but have realized that’s what he did and that I just want to make my own mark,” Jed said of his dad. “It’s best just to relax and not try to live up to a name or anything that my parents did.”
These days, Ed Jr. stays busy as the head coach at the University of Pacific. Many St. Mary’s players have gone on to play for the Tigers and many around town just assume he’s already going there.
“I actually haven’t decided yet,” Jed said. “Not playing for my dad won’t feel right, but I also don’t want it to be my last choice. I’m hoping that changes after this week. We’ll just have to see. All he’s really said is that he definitely doesn’t want me to go to another school in the same conference.”
This week, with the eyes of so many scouts and college coaches (other than his dad) on him, Sprague is hoping that being in tightly contested games will bring out the best in him.
“I know what I have in front of me from a personal standpoint, but it’s a team game and you want to win,” he said. “When the game means something, I think I play better.”