Sophomore left-handed pitcher Shea Sprague stares at the batter from the mound. Mumbling the lyrics to “Should’ve Ducked” by Lil Durk, he calms his restless mind. To him, the anticipation leading up to his first pitch is the best part of playing.
“I love the thrill,” Sprague said. “Getting really, really anxious before, and then going out there and having success. I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”
Sprague said he always knew he wanted to play at a collegiate level. Since first picking up a ball in kindergarten, his life has revolved around baseball. Sprague said it came naturally to him, and he fell in love instantly. The Boston native was introduced to the sport by his parents, who took him and his two brothers to Fenway Park every summer to watch the Red Sox. Now, his family comes to his games to support him any chance they get.
“Last year when we played Northeastern, it was my third start,” Sprague said. “I probably had like 20 family members and my entire high school come to watch me play. I threw really well and we won, so that was a really cool moment.”
After a successful freshman season, Sprague said he’s ready to play again. As the year progressed, Sprague found himself becoming more comfortable in his abilities and team. He said he faced a lot of uncertainty in the beginning but was just proud to be playing at Elon.
“Last year had a lot of good learning moments and experience,” Sprague said. “Pitching in some big games definitely is going to help out going into this year from a nerve standpoint.”
Head coach Mike Kennedy said Sprague has made significant physical gains, but Sprague is most proud of his mental growth. Sprague said he’s developed an understanding of how to handle his anxiety before a game and has learned to adapt to obstacles. He said developing confidence has been pivotal in building his skills as a pitcher, as he no longer compares himself to his teammates.
“I was trying to size everyone up,” Sprague said. “I just wrote myself off a little bit in the fall, saying, ‘Oh, I don't throw as hard as these guys.’ I was limiting myself. But once I found my groove, I really found some success.”
Sprague said escaping that mindset has presented new opportunities to him as an athlete. He and Kennedy describe baseball as a game of failure — one where mistakes are necessary. Sprague said he now uses defeat to his advantage, learning from it and building on his game.
Kennedy also said Sprague’s greatest attribute is his drive. He is always looking for ways to improve and propel the team forward.
“Obviously he was our best arm last year,” Kennedy said. “But he's got a high level of competitiveness. I think that really sets him apart from most of the guys. He just refuses to lose. He battles. That’s a huge part of being successful at this level.”
In the off-season, Sprague strengthened his preexisting pitches. He said he would practice and train on a daily basis in preparation. While bettering his fastball and changeup, Sprague focused on adding a new throw to his repertoire. Kennedy said this development has made him even more of an asset to the team.
“The goal in the fall was to develop a third pitch," Kennedy said. “The ability to add a breaking ball slider is huge for him. It gives him another element to to attack hitters with.”
Sprague said he anticipates taking on a bigger role as a player and leader this season. He hopes to help newer players enhance their skill set, the same way his teammates did last year. Both he and Kennedy are optimistic and have high expectations for the 2023 season. Sprague said he sees a lot of power in the lineup.
“We have a lot of experience and talent,” Sprague said. “So if we can piece that together, I think we'd be a dangerous team in the NCAA.”