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Early retirement: St. Olaf retires East Ridge coach Brian Sprout’s No. 28

The St. Olaf College baseball program retired the jersey number of East Ridge head coach Brian Sprout on Saturday, May 3, in a ceremony in Northfield. The number retirement was the very first in program history for a player. (Photos courtesy of St. Olaf College)

Brian Sprout will be the last baseball player to wear No. 28 at St. Olaf College.

The St. Olaf College baseball program retired Sprout’s jersey number on Saturday, May 3, in a ceremony in Northfield. The number retirement is the very first in program history for a player.

“The biggest thing I’ve said is it’s because of the team we had,” Sprout said. “We were just a big family. That was the biggest part. We were so successful as a group.”

Sprout, a 2002 St. Olaf graduate and athletic Hall of Famer, led the Oles to three straight Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) titles and holds almost every offensive record in the baseball program’s history.

Sprout said his four years at St. Olaf were some of the best times of his life.

“Baseball made it what it was, every day of it,” he said. “It was probably the best four years of baseball I’ve ever had.”

What Sprout said sticks out the most was winning the three conference championships and being ranked No. 2 in the country at one point during his sophomore year.

“It was a team thing,” he said. “All my best friends were on the team. That was the big thing for all of us.”

A two-time team captain, Sprout was twice an All-America selection, a three-time MIAC Most Valuable Player and a four-time all-region and all-MIAC selection. He is the program’s career leader in average (.408), hits (240), runs (201), at bats (574), home runs (39), triples (15), and doubles (58); and has the single-season records in hits (74), home runs (13) and triples (7). 

However, perhaps more impressive was this: In a 2002 game, he achieved a very rare feat by hitting a solo home run, a two-run homer, a three-run homer and a grand slam. 

With Sprout in the lineup, St. Olaf compiled a 53-7 record in league play. 

“Brian was one of the most dominant baseball players the MIAC has ever seen,” said head baseball coach and athletic director Matt McDonald. “From day one at St. Olaf he was a leader on the baseball field. He was a tough competitor who played the game the right way.”

A graduate of Lake City High School, Sprout — who has been the head coach at East Ridge since the Woodbury-based school opened in 2009 — spent parts of seven seasons in minor league baseball. He played in the Northern League with Fargo-Moorhead and Joliet in 2002 and 2003 before being signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fall of 2003. He reached the Dodgers’ AA affiliate Jacksonville, before joining the St. Paul Saints (American Association) in 2006. 

In all, he was a career .268 hitter in affiliated baseball with 17 homers in a 69 RBIs in 154 games. In independent baseball, he played in nearly 400 games, where he was a career .301 hitter with 31 homers and 207 RBIs. His best season came in 2006, when he hit .350 for the St. Paul Saints with 10 homers. 

He was the Northern League’s Rookie of the Year in 2003 and an all-star with the Saints in 2006. 

Sprout also played football at St. Olaf. As a wide receiver, his career included an all-conference honor and a captainship his junior year. He ranks 10th in career receptions at St. Olaf with 94 and is sixth in career receiving touchdowns with 17. 

After finishing off his outstanding college career at St. Olaf, Sprout signed with Fargo-Moorhead in the summer of 2002. He split time between there and Joliet, returning to the Redhawks to have a terrific 2003 campaign. He was third in the Northern League in runs scored that season.

The Dodgers purchased his contract in the off-season and he started the year at Jacksonville in the AA Southern League but only played eight games.

Then, in 2005 a severe shoulder injury ended his season after just 57 games. Sprout saw most of his action at third base but also played in left field. He was hitting .282 at the end of April but saw his average drop 49 points the next month. He returned for the start of the 2006 season, playing four games at second base and one at third base. His last game for the Suns was May 7 when he pinch-hit in a game against Carolina.

“I had a good year my first year with the Dodgers and things were going well, but I had my shoulder reconstructed and shut down, so that kind of changed things a little bit,” Sprout said.

The injury was a problem on and off the field.

“It effected a lot of things,” Sprout said. “I couldn’t do anything outside the baseball field because of my shoulder. It was making life really hard to live, because of the pain. It really diverted me from the path I was on.”

Before joining East Ridge as head coach, Sprout spent three years as an assistant coach at Mounds View High School. 

While he was playing for the Saints, Mounds View gathered the help of Sprout because then-head coach Mark Downey worked with him in the past when he coached at St. Olaf.

Sprout’s dad, Jim, coached him, along with his brother and sister, when he was growing up, which made him want to be a coach too.

“My Dad was always there,” Sprout said. “He and my mom rarely ever missed a game, even through college. My dad ran all the youth programs and was an umpire at a lot of my games. That made things interesting when we got home. He was always challenging me.”

Sprout teaches social studies at East Ridge High School and lives in the district with his wife, Lynn, their 2-year old daughter Ana and their 4-year old son Ryne — named for Sprout’s idol, Chicago Cubs icon Ryne Sandberg.

Sandberg is known as one of the classiest players in baseball’s history.

“He played the game the right way and he was quiet about it while he did it,” Sprout said. “That was my goal the whole time.”

-Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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