The Port Arthur News
PORT NECHES —
PORT NECHES -- As any good captain might do, an interview with Port Neches-Groves senior shortstop Daniel Sparrow starts out about how his season is going and quickly turns into a conversation about the team as a whole.
Sparrow understands how important chemistry is to this particular unit, how it has propelled them to an undefeated trip through District 20-4A and how different it feels from last season.
“I have a great team,” Sparrow said. “They always have my back no matter what. Compared to last year’s team, we’re a much completely different team and pretty much shocked our district. On the field, we know what each other is going to do.
“It’s not about stats, whether something is a hit or not. We just worry about scoring runs, playing good defense, trying to throw strikes as pitchers, winning games and working together as a core instead of being individual talent.”
Count Sparrow among the leaders of this relatively young group of Indians. He’s certainly stepped up to fill that role, according to head coach Mark Brevell.
“He’s brought a lot of leadership,” Brevell said. “He’s done a great job of being a senior leader for us. He does everything well. He’s played good defense for us, swings the bat well and has some quickness, but the biggest thing is probably his leadership.”
On the field, Sparrow mans a tough position in the middle of the field at short. He moved across the keystone from second base, where he played last season, but has seemed effortless in the field at his new spot.
Sparrow is a gifted fielder, making all the throws well and occasionally making a spectacular play. That’s what happened against Little Cypress-Mauriceville, when Sparrow got his team out of a bases loaded jam by taking a grounder up the middle, stepping on second before relaying the ball over to first for an inning-ending double play.
Still, Sparrow said the shift wasn’t as easy as it looked at first.
“I haven’t played every single game at short since my sophomore year,” Sparrow said. “It was a big transition, but I’ve gotten the hang of it and I’m ready to play the big guys in the playoffs. Defense has changed. There’s a lot more ground balls and steadily hit pop flies. That’s just from the work we put in out here. Our defense is only as good as our practices. We put in a lot of reps out here.”
All the PN-G pitchers probably appreciate what Sparrow can do at short, but combine his range and arm with third baseman Grant Guidry’s own range and defensive prowess and those pitchers can rest easy. The two are friends off the field and Sparrow said having a third baseman with the kind of range Guidry possesses helps him tremendously.
“He can cover the six hole very well,” Sparrow said. “Sometimes I have to go to the backhand, but I’m comfortable with that. He knows I am, too, and he knows that if he can’t get to a ball, I will be right behind him. But, it helps me because I can shade over a little bit more. The few feet I do leave open, I know he can cover.
“We hang out all the time, and we know what each other can and can’t do. We know we may not be the superstars, but we know with all the hard work we’re putting in, we’re going to lead this team. Our seniors are going to take control and we’ve figured out what we can do to help out the underclassmen and it shows. We’re a great defensive team.”
The transition across the middle infield wasn’t the only move Sparrow made this season. He also moved up a spot in the order from second to leadoff. As good as he was hitting second last season, Brevell said he’s taken to leadoff just as well.
“He does what a leadoff hitter should do,” Brevell said. “His on-base percentage is way up there. He looks at pitches, he’s patient up there and he gets on base. He can lay the bunt down, so he does a lot of things for us. I thought he was a pretty good two-hole hitter, but he’s even better in the leadoff spot.”
That high on-base percentage is a big plus for the team’s first batter, but just as crucial is Sparrow’s patience at the plate. He sees a ton of pitches in each at-bat, which helps out his teammates by showing them what a particular pitcher may be throwing.
It also helps him out, though, because by the time he’s seen a pitcher once, he’s probably seen every pitch that guy can throw.
“I’m comfortable hitting in any count,” Sparrow said. “If I’ve got two strikes on me, I’m okay with that. I’ve got a good eye, I can do what I can to get on base. It helps my team out because in a few games, I’ve seen 10-plus pitches in an at-bat. But, it also helps me out, because I’ve seen those 12 pitches and now I know what to expect from all of them.
“Being a leadoff hitter has been tough. Last year, I was in the two-hole and I was in the position our two-hole guys is in, because he got on base a lot and I had to bunt him over a lot. This year, having the liberty of swinging the bat a little more freely has opened my eyes. I can swing at the pitches I want and pretty much do my own thing.”
Sparrow and his Indian teammates will begin their playoff run Wednesday at Lamar University at 6:30 p.m. against 19-4A’s fourth-place finisher, Baytown Lee. The Ganders beat Dayton 6-5 on Monday to break a tie for fourth and punch their ticket to the playoffs.
“They’ve got a good ballclub,” Brevell said. “They’ve got a couple guys who can swing it pretty well. We’ve seen their No. 1 guy throw. He has been pretty effective, and it was impressive watching him. We’ve also seen their No. 2 guy some and he’s a good ballplayer too. They’re going to be a very worthy opponent, for sure.”