More than Baseball 14

How one team came together off the field for a bigger cause

Baseball is often referred to as a game of failure. Because of this, it is important for players to develop perseverance and a positive mind set. They depend on teammates for encouragement and support.  Statements like ”You’ve got this” or “Let’s pick him up” can be heard coming from dugouts at every level of the sport. The degree of adversity within the game can create a strong sense of loyalty among the players. This was certainly true for one Blue Valley team from Oxford Middle School.
While many of the boys had played together since Kindergarten, the current team was formed four years ago through Natural Baseball Academy in Olathe, KS. They play league games primarily in Blue Valley in addition to area tournaments. The players and their families developed relationships that transferred off the field as well. That closeness became vitally important in the fall of 2014 when the son of their head coach and teammate, Jacob Sprinkle, was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Jacob missed both the fall and summer baseball seasons, however his family had made the decision that they would remain committed to the team. While Jacob was unable to be there in person, he watched each game on the computer, iPad, or on occasion from a germ free vehicle parked in a “VIP” spot that had been saved for him by another family.  His father, Eric, continued his coaching role, attending almost every game and practice, sometimes coming straight from the hospital. He always made the players his priority on the field.
The team reciprocated that dedication in many heartwarming ways. Each player wore Jacob’s number in lime green (the color for lymphoma) on their jerseys and wrote it in the batter’s box dirt. The parents had t-shirts made and brought Eric to tears when everyone surprised him by wearing them to a game. They also provided meals, and visits both at home and in the hospital. “Most touching,” says Jacob’s mom Laura, “is that like us, they have become very passionate and philanthropic about cancer research and have donated money to Children’s Mercy Cancer Care Fund in Jacob’s honor.”
This passion was most likely sparked when Eric entered the team in the Alex Gordon Classic baseball tournament. Proceeds from the tournament are donated to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation For Childhood Cancer.  It was a natural fit and the boys took the task of raising funds for this very seriously. The baseball program and administration of Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley School District supported their efforts as well. They allowed the team to hold a lemonade stand fundraiser at a varsity baseball game and even closed down all other concessions. For this year’s event they raised almost $9,000.
The team has adopted the motto, “more than baseball” conveying that while being a team involves working hard to learn and play a sport, it shouldn’t end there. Supporting each other, giving back to the community, being charitable and enjoying the time spent together are even more important than the game itself. They have become more than a team; they are a family. The Royals and Alex Gordon are both great examples of this and have allowed these young men to see these principals in motion on a bigger scale.

This experience has made an impact and left them with lessons that will last a lifetime. One player’s mom, Kendall Burr, says it this way.

“Our boys have had a very personal reason to think outside themselves and act in ways for the benefit of others. They found it worthwhile to act for their friend and a cause.” When asked what he has learned, her son Isaac, commented “ When things are going bad, some kids have it a lot worse and they battle it.”

Currently Jacob is almost two years into his chemotherapy. He feels great and has resumed most activities with few restrictions and is on track to complete his treatment in January of 2017. He and his teammates are looking forward to another season., not only to play a game they love, but for the opportunity to continue raising awareness and funds for pediatric cancer.