Brian Sprout always used to say the wind was blowing out on game days at St. Olaf, but he knows it was for sure on April 29, 2002.
On that date, the Oles hit 12 home runs as a team in the first game of a doubleheader victory over Augsburg. Sprout had four of them — a solo shot, a two-run homer, a three-run blast and a grand slam.
The official Twitter feed of the MIAC, in recognizing the 18-year anniversary last week, said the Sprout home runs came in order in four consecutive at-bats — saying he is the only player in baseball history to hit the “home run cycle” in ascending order.
Alas, an official boxscore and play-by-play from Augsburg shows Sprout’s grand slam came first, then the two-run, three-run and solo blasts as part of a 5-for-7, 11-RBI game.
Still, that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment. Consider this: No player in the history of Major League Baseball has ever hit a home run cycle in any order in any game. (Mark Whiten came the closest, hitting a two-run homer, a pair of three-run shots and a grand slam in a 1993 game for the Cardinals.)
And Sprout, in a recent interview, remembered a lot of other peculiar circumstances about that day. For starters, the doubleheader was supposed to be at Augsburg, but the Auggies’ field was unplayable. So it was moved to Northfield.
“Their coach requested our dugout since they were technically the home team. It set the tone for the day. It didn’t make our coach very happy,” Sprout said. “Then combine that with wind blowing out and a lot of talented hitters on our team, and we had a lot of opportunities.”
The final score in Game 1: 39-4. Game 2 wasn’t much closer: 26-7 (Sprout was 4-for-6 — all singles). Because the balls were flying out left and right, nobody thought much of Sprout’s Game 1 accomplishment.
“I don’t think anyone realized it at the time,” he said. “We hit so many home runs as a team that day. Years down the road — one of my town ball teammates said there was a ‘this date in history’ at his local ballpark and it had my name on it.”
It popped up again last week on the MIAC Twitter feed — just in time for some of his former teammates to see it.
“It comes up on a timeline and people start texting me about it. I largely ignore it. I’m not going to retweet that kind of thing,” Sprout said. “We talked about it during a group chat with my college buddies.”
The home run binge came in Sprout’s senior year, the third consecutive season the Oles won the MIAC title. From there, he embarked on a professional career that started in the old independent Northern League.
He hit enough there to latch on with the Dodgers organization, rising as far as Class AA before coming home to Minnesota to play for the Saints from 2006 to ’08. His stat line from 2006: .350 average, 10 homers and a .957 OPS in 91 games.
These days, Sprout teaches U.S. history and is the baseball coach at East Ridge High School, the 2019 Class 4A champion. With the 2020 season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, reminiscing about the past — as a lot of us are doing lately — was a nice diversion.
“In town ball I hit four homers in a game a couple of times. I hit for the cycle a few different times,” Sprout said. “But the home run cycle, putting it all together, that was it.”