The two young men leading the Pro-Tek Photography Bull Dogs aren’t much older than the players they’re coaching.
But Josh Corrie’s and Justin Sprague’s passion for the game of baseball is unquestioned by the 13- to-15-year-olds wearing blue and white — just like Corrie and Sprague did as freshmen at Columbus North High School.
Corrie and Sprague, 2013 graduates who recently completed their freshman years of college, felt called to coach a Babe Ruth team this summer. The pair had played Babe Ruth ball as kids and wanted to give back to the game that had provided them so many memories.
“We played all the way up through our freshman year in high school, didn’t really see playing in the future, so I thought the next best thing to playing would be coaching,” Sprague said.
“Since (Corrie) knows just as much about baseball as I do, I asked him if he’d do it with me, and he said ‘Yeah,’ so it went from there.”
Sprague, a North graduate and IUPUC student, called Babe Ruth Baseball board president Brad Glenn to set things up. Corrie, who graduated from Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School and studies at Ivy Tech, was on board from the beginning.
“I wanted to coach,” Corrie said. “We talked about it actually the year before this year, but we never did it because we were just out of high school, and we were getting everything set up for college. But it was something we wanted to pursue because we love the game.”
Honoring a friend
Growing up together in Babe Ruth Baseball, Corrie, Sprague and Derek Lodestein became best friends. They were teammates through their freshman year in high school, when they played on the North freshman squad.
“That’s how we grew up,” Sprague said. “We played ball every year. We grew up playing ball since first grade or second grade. We finally got on the same team in sixth grade, and since then, we took off together as best friends.”
Corrie and Sprague gave up baseball after their freshman years, and Lodestein moved to Davenport, Iowa, with his family in October of his sophomore year. In December of that year, Lodestein returned to Columbus to visit and was with Corrie and Dylan
Godsey at Corrie’s grandparents home on Terrace Lake when tragedy struck.
Corrie, Godsey and Lodestein ventured too far out onto the ice and fell though. A neighbor and Columbus Police Department officers rescued Corrie and Godsey, but were unable to rescue Lodestein. Divers found his body a couple hours later.
One of the reasons Corrie and Sprague decided to coach a team is to honor their fallen friend’s memory.
“We talked about it once or twice at the beginning of the season, and kind of told (the players) why we were out here,” Sprague said. “We kind of told them we wished we could be out there playing with them and this was the next-best thing — to be able to watch them mature throughout the season.”
Passing it on
Although their team won only three games this year and lost in the second round of the postseason tournament Wednesday, players were pleased with what they learned and with their overall experience this season.
“They put us through a lot of conditioning,” said Hunter Albright, who will be a sophomore at Hauser High School. “Some of us may have got off to a rough start, but we still got to communicating, and they’re the ones that helped me realize that we all need to communicate, and there’s no single-player team.”
“I think they were really good,” said Sam Sedziol, who will be an eighth-grader at Central Middle School. “They taught me better than anyone else I’ve had, almost. They kept us all together and created really good bonds between the whole team. They helped create that friendship and family feeling in the game that you should have.”
The field at Clifty Park where Corrie and Sprague coached the team this year is the same field on which they toiled as Babe Ruth players and they same field where they played as freshmen at North.
“We have several memories out here,” Corrie said. “We grew up out here as freshmen. This is where we took off as men. We were disciplined out here with some of the best coaches, and we were grateful for it.”
Now, they’re trying to pass on what they learned to the kids they’re coaching.
“We always try to teach the kids to hustle on and off the field, just always give 100 percent,” Sprague said. “That’s always been our motto all year.”
“It’s not so much watching them play baseball as it is coming and playing a team sport and watching everybody walk off the field with smiles and knowing that they left everything on the field,” Corrie said.