They already had his and hers gold medals. On Sunday night Ed Sprague picked up another little memento for the trophy room of the house that he and his wife, U.S. synchronized-swimming sweetheart Kristen Babb-Sprague, are building in Stockton, Calif. "Only cost me an autographed bat and autographed ball," Sprague said of the historic souvenir he had just acquired from the fan who had ended up with his home run ball. "I would have given the lady a thousand bats and balls. I got off cheap."
But that was no cheap thrill the Toronto Blue Jay backup catcher provided Sunday night. Pinch-hitting with Toronto trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth, Sprague hit a fastball thrown by Atlanta Brave reliever Jeff Reardon, and the result was a two-run home run into the leftfield seats that gave the Jays a stunning 5-4 victory and evened the World Series at a game apiece. Afterward Kristen said, "Hey, I had my dream come true. This is Ed's."
This has been a memorable year for the young couple. There was Ed's selection as a starting catcher in the Triple A All-Star Game, followed by his July 31 call-up to the Jays. That was trumped on Aug. 6, when Kristen edged Sylvie Frechette of Canada for the synchro gold in Barcelona. (Ed won his gold as a member of the U.S. Olympic baseball team in '88.) And now Ed joins the long line of unlikely Series heroes. "I don't know what we're going to do for an encore," said Kristen. "I know. We'll have a baby."
Kristen and Ed met at the 1987 Pan Am Games in Indianapolis. According to Kristen, "I walked by his room carrying a ton of luggage, and he offered to help." Romance bloomed despite Kristen's opinion of baseball: "I hated baseball. But when I said 'I do,' I said I'd do the baseball as well. Now ask me what I think of it." As for Ed, he says, "Synchronized swimming is far more demanding than baseball. Kristen worked 15 years for her gold medal. I played two weeks for mine."
October 26, 1992
Sprague didn't play much after being called up—he had only 47 at bats—but he and two other Blue Jay reserves, outfielders Turner Ward and Derek Bell, started something called the Trenches, a silly little rally routine that has enlivened the Toronto bench. They lay a towel labeled TRENCHES on the top step of the dugout, near the bat rack. Bell, the loader, pulls out a bat belonging to a Blue Jay teammate who's about to hit. He passes the bat to Sprague, the exchanger. As the batter comes to the plate, the bat is handed to Ward, the shooter, who fires off an imaginary volley at the opposing pitcher. "If we need a big homer, like tonight," Ward said Sunday night, "I turn the bat around and make it a bazooka." The imaginary warfare may seem juvenile, but when one of the soldiers has to come into a game, his place is often taken by Toronto's 41-year-old star, Dave Winfield. "He's our commander in chief," says Sprague. As so often happens in battle, it was the guys in the trenches who won Game 2.
Even though this is his first World Series, Sprague is somewhat familiar with the postseason experience. In 1972, when he was five, his father, Ed Sr., was a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who lost that year's Series to the Oakland A's. Ed Sr. once owned the Stockton Ports of the Class A California League. "Stockton is supposed to be the home of Casey at the Bat," says Ed Jr., "so Dad put Mudville on the front of all the uniforms." Because Ed Jr. did what Casey didn't, there was joy in Yorkville, in Mississauga, in Nova Scotia...in all of Canada on Sunday night.