SEATTLE -- On-deck for his final season with Washington baseball, redshirt senior outfielder Will Sparks is preparing for his last spring on Montlake and is helping lead the Huskies toward another successful spring campaign.
The end of his collegiate season is just a small part of Sparks’ long-lived experience with baseball. “Ever since I can remember I’ve been playing baseball. I’ve just loved playing and it is such a great game in so many ways.
“I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve really learned to appreciate how much baseball is like life,” he continued. “You hear that cliché all the time, but it is so true. Being able to show up every day with the same mindset and willingness to work is something I can take from this game and I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
And with the games left in his collegiate career numbered, Sparks is looking to go above and beyond for the home stretch.
When he sat down with head coach Lindsay Meggs at the end of the 2014 season, Sparks told Meggs that he was going to try to emulate one of his former teammates and his formula for success in his last season at Washington.
“This year, I was going to kind look to fall in the footsteps of a guys like Brian Wolfe. That’s a guy that, just like me last year, who had fought through some injuries, hadn’t played that much, but his last season was just incredible.”His relationship with his former teammate, Wolfe, has provided support and inspiration for Sparks.
“I pick his brain about how he handled his situation,” said Sparks. “And it is not just mechanical things in the swing and stuff. It’s just how he went about his business and what his mindset was … what he changed in order to become the player that he was.”
For Sparks, part of building his mindset for this season has been about embodying his decision to become a Husky.
“When I decided to come here, I made a commitment to myself, and the team. It is that very commitment when I made that decision that keeps bringing me out here every day, and it’s what motivates me to do my best.”
The personal development and achievement, however, is only a fraction of what Sparks is looking towards come springtime. The Huskies acquired a cast of 14 newcomers this offseason, composed of both freshmen and transfers: and for a veteran like Sparks, this welcomes an opportunity to take on a new role.
When the team reconvened for autumn practices in September, Sparks was more than familiar with the routine.
“It was my fifth go-around of this, so a lot of the stuff we talked about earlier on in the classroom I had heard three or four times already,” Sparks said. “A lot of us older guys had a lot of responsibility in kind of bringing them in. And we had a few captain’s practices early on where we kind of wanted to help them out and get them accustomed to what’s going on.”
This new responsibility falls right into Sparks’ personal goals for the season, which he said has been about finding a role and doing whatever he can to help the team win. So far this year, he has flourished taking on the leadership role.
“It’s something that has been growing over time. I think that I’m more of a leader this year than I was last year, and more last year than I was the year before that. It’s at a point this year where I really feel the most comfortable being in that spot. I feel like I’ve really embraced it so far this fall, and I’m looking to carry it out through the rest of the year.”
It is a fitting position for Sparks who, in his four years, has witnessed and been a part of the transformation of the Washington baseball program: from the construction of its new facilities, to the program burgeoning into a competitor on the national collegiate stage.
In addition, there has also been a development in the spirit and camaraderie of the program. Speaking highly about the team’s unity, Sparks explained that the team’s relationship has also changed over his years. During his first season, Sparks felt there was hardly any unity or real bond. But the coaching staff over his career, Sparks noted, has been about changing that mindset.“They have made the conscious decision to bring the type of guys in that want to go to Omaha, want to win the College World Series, and want to work every day to get better as a team,” Sparks said. “Over the years, slowly we have had guys come in who want that bond, want that unity – and more guys are buying into what the coaches are preaching to us.
“We’ve reached a point where the whole team is like that. Obviously there are the new field, the locker room, and all the nice stuff that help, but that bond exists because of the players and how well we’ve done since then.”
This year, Sparks hopes that it will be evident that the team is more cohesive and that they are all on the same page. For the Huskies this season, Sparks said that a lot of the motivation is rooted in wanting to improve on the mark of last season.
“Last year was such a special season and we’re looking forward to showing that it wasn’t a fluke," Sparks said. "That is how Husky baseball is, and is going to be for the near future.
“This is a team who prides themselves on how hard they work, how hard they hustle, and how hard they play. I think above all else, that is going to show on the field and in the games and that is what will lead us to success.”
These winter months are crucial for personal development as the team moves closer to opening day. There are not full-team practices, but a lot work is put in on the individual player level.
“This is the time of year where the improvement is a lot more in the player’s hands,” Sparks said. “I think we are going to improve a lot during this time, and I like the direction we’re headed. I think that we can successfully maintain what we did in the fall throughout this individual time.”
Their NCAA tournament appearance last year was the first program appearance since 2004, and the success of last season is indicative of the strong team relationship that Sparks has seen strengthen through his years with Washington.
As the winter culminates and the Diamond Dawgs make their way back onto the field come February, there will be just one last thing left to do for Sparks and the rest of the Huskies: step up to bat, and play ball.