You always want to see a story have a happy ending.
And while Justin Sprenger’s selection by the Texas Rangers in the Major League Baseball draft isn’t an ending, it’s nice to see one of our local standouts be able to continue his career beyond college.
Justin was picked in the 29th round by the Texas Rangers Saturday with the 880th pick in the draft. According to Justin’s father, Doug Sprenger, he has been assigned to the Spokane Indians (Class A Short Season) of the Northwest League.
Sprenger, a right-handed pitcher, started his career locally, earning All-GAC status with Washington High School and becoming a six-time all-star selection with the Washington Post 218 American Legion baseball teams.
But that’s where many lost track of him. Sprenger went to Jefferson College and helped the Vikings reach the NJCAA World Series in 2011.
He ended up at Tennessee Wesleyan and helped that team finish 45-18 overall and 20-3 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs lost one game short of the world series, falling in 19 innings to Missouri Baptist.
Justin was one of three Tennessee Wesleyan players to be picked in this year’s draft and one of 28 Missouri players to be selected. One of the others was former West Legion player Zach Loraine.
There’s no guarantee how far Sprenger will get in his quest to make the big leagues. But the Rangers feel there is something there which could lead him to bigger and better things.
There are a number of players we’ve seen come through this area or play our teams. The most recent one to get to the big leagues is Nick Tepesch. We remember him as the flamethrower from Rod’s Sports A’s who put down Post 218 in the 2006 state tournament first round. His fastball was so hard that under the dim lights of Liberty Park in Sedalia, you only heard it.
Now, he’s one of the early favorites for AL Rookie of the Year as a starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers.
We’ve also seen Mark Buehrle, Steve Colyer and Dennis Tankersley come through here in high school or Legion ball over the years.
Several locals have made it close. Ronnie Ray, Derek Dace and Matt Gawer peaked at AAA. Union High School graduate Ashton Goudeau played with the Kansas City Royals Arizona Rookie League affiliate last summer after being drafted by that club.
It takes the right set of circumstances to become a professional athlete. Former Borgia and Post 218 player Spiker Helms had hoped to hear his name called last year at the draft.
Helms, who went on to a solid career with MCC-Longview and Missouri State, didn’t get drafted last season. He did get signed by the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association (Independent) and this year, he’s playing for the Gateway Grizzlies of Sauget, Ill.
Of course, it’s not just baseball players who make it to the pro ranks. Brock Olivo and Justin Skaggs have played in the National Football League.
Denodus O'Bryant, a Washington High School graduate, had his NFL dream get detoured Tuesday when he was released by the Indianapolis Colts.
Rachel Fister (Borgia) spent this season with the Heart of America Havoc of the Women’s Premier Volleyball League.
Matt Pickens won an MLS Cup starting in goal for the Colorado Rapids. He’s recovering from a broken arm suffered early this season. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when he returns to action.
Pickens had a six-month contract with QPR (Queens Park Rangers) in England and he’s not the only area athlete to play beyond the continent.
Luke Meyer was a star for both teams he played basketball for in Australia. And New Haven’s Kathleen Scheer signed a pro contract with the women’s team in Bendigo, where Meyer had ended his career. She missed the season due to injury.
Alex Moosmann went on and played a season of basketball in Germany.
I’m sure there are players I’m missing from recent years. It’s so hard to keep up with everyone. And I’m certain the list of area professional athletes will grow in future years.
There is one common thread among all of the players named above — tremendous work ethic. Whether they’re naturally blessed with talent or have had to labor for every break, our area’s professional athletes have shown the drive to be the best they can be and never rest on their laurels.
There’s something young athletes can learn from our area’s professionals.