If all goes as he has planned, Ferndale senior Austyn Sprague will move to California after he graduates from college with a degree in marine biology so that he can get a job training dolphins and whales? he hopes at Sea World in San Diego.
"It's a dream, of course," Sprague said in a phone interview.
One that he's had since he got the opportunity to work with his aunt's friend, who trains dolphins to detect explosive water mines.
"I went there and swam with the dolphins and got a chance to help him train them," Sprague said. "It was an unbelievable experience."
Though dealing with dolphins and high school baseball players is completely different, Sprague said he believes some of the skills he learned will translate to his duties leading and teaching as a captain for the Golden Eagles this year.
The most important skill of all? Understanding.
"You have to be strict and forgiving at the same time," Sprague said. "You have to show them what is going on."
Considering Sprague, who likely will spend most of his time at third base this season, is one of only three returning Ferndale players with extensive varsity playing experience, Sprague definitely will be counted on to show the way.
Though Sprague admits he's naturally a little on the shy side away from the baseball diamond, it's a role he not only embraces, but he also seems perfect for.
"He's just a great kid," Ferndale coach Donny Hennigs said in a phone interview. "He's a natural leader. Kids gravitate toward him and like to follow him. ... He treats everyone the same. He's got a great attitude, and he leads by example and does what needs to be done."
With Ferndale going through a coaching change this year, following the departure of Sean Linville for Blaine, where he will take over the reins for the legendary Gary Clausen, Sprague's calm, steady influence will be particularly important.
"I just tried to stay positive," Sprague said of the change. "A lot of the guys got kind of down when they heard that Coach (Linville) was leaving, and they thought we wouldn't be able to replace him. But I reminded them to stay positive and trust that we could continue the tradition of the program."
That belief was rewarded with the hiring of Hennigs, who was an assistant to Linville during his nine years with the team and a close friend of the former coach.
He also already had built relationships with the players he will now lead.
"He was always there for us," Sprague said of Hennigs. "I guess I kind of look up to him more now, because he is the head coach. ... It's been a very noticeable change since he took over. He has to be a lot more strict now, because he has to be, but we believe in him because we know him."
And Hennigs said he believes he has the perfect player in Sprague to set the tone for his team and "show all the young guys how we do things here at Ferndale."
Though he's a natural leader, Sprague certainly has the skill set to lead the team with his actions, as well.
He's a rock at third base that makes all the routine plays with his consistency, decent feet and good arm strength, Hennigs said.
With the graduation of catcher Jake Frost, Sprague's experience and knowledge of the game also should prove valuable helping to break in a young infield, making sure everyone positions themselves correctly and picking guys up when things go wrong.
Sprague will be just as important at the plate, where's he's expected to slot into the middle of the Ferndale order at cleanup.
"I think for this level, he's a perfect guy for that position," Hennigs said. "He's not a home run guy. He's probably not going to hit eight or nine home runs for us this season. But he's a good gap hitter. ... We're hoping to get some guys on in front of him so teams can't pitch around him. He's a very consistent hitter, and we expect him to have a big year for us."
Sprague, who hit near the center of Ferndale's lineup for most of last season as a junior, finished second on the team with a .342 batting average (25 for 73). He had seven doubles and one triple, walked 17 times, scored 21 runs and drove in 16.
Sprague was never better than in a March 26 game against Anacortes, when he went 4 for 5 with six RBI. He drove in two runs with two out in the seventh inning to tie the game, before belting a two-run double in the eighth to help secure the victory.
As if that weren't enough, he pitched four scoreless innings of relief, striking out eight to pick up the victory in the game.
This year, he's looking for even more at the plate.
"I've really been working on my approach during the offseason," Sprague said. "Last year, I was just swinging to swing. Now, I want to have an approach. I want to be a lot more focused and try to stay inside the ball so I can show a little more power."
Undoubtedly, Sprague will try to share his approach at the plate and to the game with his younger teammates during his final spring of high school baseball.
Sprague has already signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball for Everett Community College next year, a program that former Ferndale teammate Cooper Jansen just began playing for this year.
Sprague said he chose the Trojans over Pacific Lutheran, Linfield and Central Washington, because "it seemed like a winning program, I really liked the coach, it was close to home and they have a really nice field to play on."
After he's done at Everett, Sprague said he hopes to continue playing baseball at a four-year school, as he continues to move toward his dream of training marine mammals.
But before all that begins, he'd like to make one last run at Ferndale and leave his mark on the young players in the program.
"It's my job to keep on those younger guys and make sure they understand what it takes," Sprague said. "I want to keep them positive, but make sure they're doing the things that need to be done. ... I enjoy being a leader and looking out for the team. I like having that pressure on my back."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.