By: Cole Bradley
ORLEANS, Mass- Donning a nation's colors is something every young athlete dreams of doing.
To represent a family, team, school, and country is nothing short of special in the minds of those who hold themselves to the highest standards on and off the field. Showcasing oneself amongst the cream of the crop makes it that much more worthwhile.
That is exactly what Jace Jung (Texas Tech) and Jordan Sprinkle (UC Santa Barbara) get to do starting July 2, when they join USA Baseball’s 2021 Collegiate National Team roster.
48 of the best players in the country will be separated into two teams, the ‘Stars’ and ‘Stripes.’ Both teams will play 11 games against each other in Virginia, Tennessee, West Virginia and at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
The two Firebirds have done nothing but perform this season at their respective schools, more than earning the right to be suiting up in the red, white, and blue.
For Sprinkle, the opportunity is nothing short of a lifelong dream come true.
As a freshman this past spring, Sprinkle led the Big West in stolen bases with 26, adding 83 hits in 235 at-bats with the Gauchos. His efforts earned him Co-Big West Freshman of the Year and First Team All-Conference honors.
“I’m always working hard and working on my craft,” Sprinkle said. “I got a chance this year to really open my own eyes to who I am as a player and I think I have a lot to offer. I’m so blessed and grateful the USA coaches recognized that in me as a player.”
Andrew Checketts, Sprinkles’ head coach at UCSB, was the first to inform him that he made the team, joking that he hoped he was doing, ‘his 500 push-ups and squats,’ before giving him the good news.
His parents, Karyn and Hank, the two people who have helped guide him the most to this point in his career, received word shortly after. Jordan keeps them involved as much as he can, updating them often, this seemed appropriate to tell them.
“Being able just to share that news with them was very exciting,” Sprinkle said. “We’ve been practicing since I was really little. I’ve always wanted to play for Team USA ever since I was young and to get that chance is absolutely amazing.”
The Firebird faithful can rest assured knowing that Sprinkle plans on making a return to the Cape once the National Team finishes up in mid-July. With it all depending on how he feels physically, he hopes to be back soon.
“I love it out here so it’s going to be hard if I don’t come back,” Sprinkle said. “I just have to see how everything goes. I’d say right now I am coming back but if that changes I’ll let people know.”
Regardless if Sprinkle returns to Orleans or not, he has already made his presence felt with the Firebirds, reaching base four times in the first two games. The exact same can be said for Jung, who joins the Collegiate National Team three years after his brother Josh started 15 games at third base for the same club.
Jung won the Big-12 Player of the Year with Texas Tech this past spring and currently finds himself as a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is shelled out by USA Baseball to the best amateur player in the country every season. The abundance of accolades still doesn’t change how he plans on approaching his time with Team USA.
“It’s all about staying within myself and not trying to do too much,” Jung said. “I think it’s really going to help me going in with Team USA just knowing who I am.”
Jung didn’t hesitate in sharing his achievement with his family, particularly his grandfather who bugged Jace constantly hoping he’d be making the team.
After losing his grandmother to stage four lung cancer in February, the moment shared between Jace and his grandfather became that much more meaningful.
“She got taken away from us on the opening weekend of the season, and she has been with me ever since,” Jung said. “It was tough for my grandpa and I’m sure it’ll be that way for a while. Right when I went home to tell my grandpa and my dad that I made the team they were so happy. The smile on my grandpa’s face was so big.”
Jung carried his grandmother's memory with him all the way through one of the greatest collegiate seasons in recent memory, leading the Big-12 in almost every major offensive category including home runs (21) and RBI (67). In the two games he's played so far in Orleans it’s been a lot of the same, 3-for-9 with three runs driven in.
Jung will surely do the same once he officially joins his teammates in Danville, Virginia.
“It’s a great opportunity just to be acknowledged for this,” Jung said. “Gotta give credit where it’s due, I wouldn’t be the player I am today without my dad and my brother. My mom too, she is always there watching my games and practices.”
On top of all of that, Jung is looking forward to getting to know his fellow Firebirds teammate a little better as well. Both Jung and Sprinkle played in summer leagues on the West Coast last summer following the Covid-19 shortened spring season.
“Me and him have a great connection,” Jung said. “He’s kind of like the California guys I played with last summer. We've talked about going together and I think we’re on the same flight out of here. He’s a great guy and he loves to compete.”
Both men have roughly a week before they leave the Cape to join a new group for the better part of the summer to represent something bigger than baseball and even themselves, and make no mistake, they’re both raring to go.
“I remember watching YouTube videos of some of the past World Baseball Classic teams and it was just so exciting,” Sprinkle said. “What I’m looking forward to most is being around players who are really dedicated to getting better and trying to be the best baseball player that they can be. Those are guys you want to be surrounded by.”