Shelton State baseball assistant living dream from plate to dugout
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Jeremy Bryant
Shelton State Community College baseball fans are surely familiar with the name Bobby Sprowl, but there’s another name rising within the program’s leadership. Sprowl has been at the helm of Shelton State baseball for 31 years and more than 1,000 victories, but the budding voice under him is finding his own.
Assistant coach Jake Vickerson has been working with Sprowl for the last five years, but it is his work ethic and strong will is making his sprouting career that much more intriguing. While Vickerson has been learning the coaching ropes under one of Tuscaloosa’s best, he got a head start from a different perspective.
Lace ’em Up
Before deciding to help guide and develop players from the dugout, Vickerson was getting his hands dirty and lacing up his cleats as a player. Vickerson is no ordinary former Shelton State player; whenever he stepped up to the plate, he crushed the hearts of opposing defenses and broke records in the process.
Vickerson was a second baseman when he suited up in the green and white, and he holds a list of accolades from his time in school. He played for Shelton State in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, winning an Alabama Community College Conference Championship along the way. He remains slotted at fourth all-time in school history for career at-bats, runs scored and stolen bases.
When he wasn’t inching off plates and sliding toward another, he was making life miserable and lowering the confidence of pitchers whenever he cracked a ball towards the clouds. He ranks second in Shelton State history in career hits, which contributed to achieving All-State and All-Region accolades.
After Shelton State, Vickerson moved on to the higher ranks of Division I baseball and chose to play out his final collegiate years at Mississippi over his hometown school the University of Alabama. It was there that he began to accrue accolades exceeding the diamond-shaped field, becoming a two-time member of the SEC Academic honor roll.
And when it came to showing up for the Bulldogs during games, he did not disappoint. Oftentimes it seemed like he got a boost from suiting up against the school’s biggest rivals. He hit a team-high .600 at bat, and notched two runs in his return to Tuscaloosa in a series win against Alabama. In his final year in a Bulldogs uniform, he yielded a career game against rival and conference foe LSU. He caught fire tallying a career-high three hits, three runs scored and two doubles, making his last effort as a player just as great as the first.
A Different Perspective
When Vickerson finally hung up his cleats, the vision became clear when he decided to become a coach, and no place seemed like a better fit than the program where it all started from.
Sometimes as an assistant coach, the learning curve comes with underwhelming circumstances like not having a great amount of team success. In Vickerson’s case, it was the opposite. Since being under the leadership and guidance of coach Sprowl and Vickerson, Shelton State has accrued over 130 wins in the last four years and made a trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series last season.
Many believe that a coach that has seen the other side of the white lines will always have the upper hand when it comes to a player’s understanding. The age-old notion can be used when speaking of Vickerson as well because his diligent and laser focus bleeds into the success his players have in the game, never allowing the moment to get above their heads.
Switching over to the other side of the spectrum is not always as smooth as many people may think. The move for younger coaches is sometimes even tougher because there is that sliver of a gut feeling that makes a person feel as though they should still be playing. Vickerson still sees himself as a player at times, but he believes joining the other side of the has been one of his best decisions.
“The transition has been great honestly, with coaching it’s so much different because instead of just worrying about yourself, you got a whole team of guys that you’re responsible for, so it’s a lot different than playing, but I probably enjoy it more than playing,” said Vickerson.
The learning curve has been steady, but selflessness has become the main component of how he aspires to guide the young men that pass through the program. He went from thinking about how to correct his own game day-by-day, to going home at night to conjure up ways to assist over 20 hitters, being the coach of the offense.
There’s no time to waste when it comes to knowing how it really is in the coaching world. Many young coaches barely get their foot in the door before they realize it’s not what they expected. Vickerson ventured into a crash course of what coaching is really like, but gained true knowledge along the way from coach Sprowl.
“He lets me fail, which is the best thing, he threw me into the fire from day one and was like hey, you’re never going to stop learning when you do this, but getting thrown into the fire allows me to see what works and what doesn’t,” said Vickerson.
There is always one coach who will make a player look back and think about how much they shaped not only their playing career, but also their life. Sprowl has become a huge inspiration for Vickerson’s journey, and has had an impact on the player and coach that has surmounted since meeting his mentor at only 7 years old. Their unique relationship has become inseparable through the years, which made everything much more gratifying when he heard his phone ring to make everything come back around full circle.
“When he called me six years ago to ask if I was interested in doing this, it was a no-brainer because he’s like a father figure to me. If you can have an impact on people like he’s had on me and my entire family, I think that’s why you do it,” said Vickerson.
The End Game
For many young coaches there is always the dream to be the head coach, but exiting the assistant position before learning all the ropes to the job can be just as damaging as losing a head coaching gig prematurely. Vickerson is no different from other young coaches in wanting to fulfill the vision of becoming a head coach one day, but his selflessness and determination will not allow him to take his focus off of his current position.
“I’m one of those people that believe if you are looking down the road, you can’t do a good job where you are at now, so I treat this like my dream job and take it year by year,” said Vickerson.
His journey at Shelton State is not done yet with the team slivering towards the playoffs, but he would not have it any other way as he continues to enjoy everything that led to his growing success from the plate to the dugout.