By Elliott Propes
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 11:00 p.m.
Bobby Sprowl got home late Wednesday, April 13, and changed out of his uniform after a day at the ballpark. He had just coached the Shelton State baseball team to its 11th straight victory. The next day was a special day. He was turning 60 years old. More than half of those 60 years, he has been the Buccaneers' head coach.
"I just enjoy being around the kids. You know, 30 years and I still feel like a kid when I'm out there," Sprowl said. "Here I am I just turned 60 the other day, but I still feel like I'm 25. It makes you feel young."
Sprowl won his 900th game earlier this year. He has been coaching the program since it began. He became head coach the second season in 1986 and, besides a short stint as a pitching coach at the University of Alabama, he has remained a Buccaneer. He is in Year 31 at Shelton State.
"People ask me all the time, 'Why are you still at Shelton?' Because I enjoy it here. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I've turned down jobs at other places, pro ball and stuff like that," Sprowl said. "I like it here. I enjoy the junior college setting and I enjoy being at Shelton."
Sprowl pitched for Alabama and then made it to the major leagues for four seasons. He pitched for the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. He decided to hang it up when he could no longer get batters out. Right away, he was offered an assistant position at Shelton State.
Kevin Saucier and Sprowl go way back. The two first got to know each other at a pitching clinic in Baton Rouge, La., when Saucier pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Sprowl pitched for the Houston Astros. Since then, Saucier went into scouting while Sprowl pursued coaching. Saucier has actually scouted many of Sprowl's players over the years.
"This what I always tell a lot young scouts when they first come in, if they see some young arms out there and they want them to get better and JuCo is the route, especially pitchers, I tell them to send them to Bobby Sprowl," Saucier said. "Bobby Sprowl is, if not the best, one of the best pitching coaches in the country, junior-college wise, and if you probably put him in the SEC he'd be right up there, too."
Saucier said Sprowl is one of the best evaluators of talent, and calls him all the time because he will get an honest and accurate opinion of any player.
One of Sprowl's former players, Matt Downs, agreed. Downs spent four seasons in the big leagues as a utility player.
"When I came to Shelton he said, 'You will play professional baseball.'" Downs said. "I didn't know what professional baseball was and then I looked back five to seven years later I'm like, 'how did this man know that I would play professional baseball the day I showed up on campus'? And I'll be honest with you, he taught me how to play the game the right way and it kind of translated to pro ball."
Ron Polk, who has the most wins by an SEC head coach in any sport, coached against Sprowl when Sprowl was at Alabama. A member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame, Polk coached 35 seasons at Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and Georgia, and is currently a volunteer assistant at UAB. Polk said Sprowl was a tough ace to face, but he had even higher praise of Sprowl as a coach.
"We've had several of his kids at UAB," Polk said. "Bobby is good developer of talent. Every kid we've had from Shelton State has been well-coached, and every player speaks highly of Bobby.
"Any time you've coached at one place for 31 years, you've done pretty good," Polk said. "There's not many coaches that coach 31 years at the same school."
Sprowl's former players do sing his praises.
"I think Bobby did an excellent job of helping me not only in the baseball aspect, but growing up," former major league pitcher Brandon Medders said. "He spent time with me, talking with me not just about baseball, but about experiences in life and I will never forget that. He went above and beyond what he had to do as a coach."
"Bobby is just that players' manager, you know. He had great relationships with his players. I almost compare him to, when I made it to the big leagues, with Dusty Baker," said Russ Davis, a former player of Sprowl's who played in the major leagues. "He was almost like having a second dad or something. He was awesome, a great person to play for."
Sprowl will put that uniform back on today when Shelton State hosts Wallace-Hanceville in a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m.
"I don't think he's aged at all," Davis said. "He still looks like the same ole Bobby Sprowl. I think he could probably do it for another 100 years. He loves it."