Sprowl, Stewart back in action for the Tigers

I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller… <br><br> The strains of Skee-Lo's "I Wish," one of the more popular batting music choices at Alex Box Stadium in 2003 as it accompanied diminutive 5-8 outfielder Bruce Sprowl to the plate, is back in the rotation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Bruce is back – and he has brought Quinn Stewart with him.

The junior outfielders were conspicuous only by their absence in 2004, as the duo sat on the bench and redshirted rather than waste a season of eligibility backing up former Tigers Jon Zeringue and J.C. Holt in right and centerfield respectively.

But with Zeringue and Holt now collecting paychecks in the minor leagues, the doors are open for Sprowl and Stewart's return, and the pair could not be happier.

"You never really want to sit out, but overall it's helped me grow, I was able to sit back and watch the game and develop a new appreciation for it," Stewart said. "I'm used to playing every year, and all of a sudden it's taken from you."

"It feels good to be back with a bat, I'm just having fun," Sprowl agreed. "(Being redshirted) was not much of a shock, but it was different for me because I've never really done that before. It worked out to our advantage though, and it helped out greatly.

"I learned different ways the game can be played, and watched guys' mental approaches and figured out how my game can be improved."

Sprowl in particular must have done something right during his redshirt season, as the junior from Knoxville, Tenn., was named to the SEbaseball.com All-Summer League team after batting .340 with 13 doubles, six home runs, 21 runs batted in, and 21 stolen bases in the Valley Baseball League in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

The team is comprised of players who stood out in collegiate summer leagues throughout the U.S., and Sprowl was joined by teammates Ryan Patterson, Edgar Ramirez, and Chris Cahill on the list, giving the Tigers a quadruple crown of summer league standouts.

"It was great, I just enjoyed playing ball again after sitting out last summer, I had a good time," said Sprowl.

That Sprowl stood out over the summer comes as little surprise to Tiger fans, as the center fielder hit at a .321 clip in Southeastern Conference play during his lone season for LSU after transferring from Shelton State Community College following the 2002 season.

The left-handed leadoff hitter serves as a perfect antithesis for Stewart, a 6-0, 205-pound slugger who blasted seven home runs and picked up 30 RBI as a designated hitter for the purple and gold in 2003.

Now the duo, a complimentary yin and yang in the outfield, are swinging away in the batter's box again, ensuring the transition to the post-Zeringue and Holt era will likely be a smooth one.

"That was the idea of them redshirting last year, and remember we still have Ryan Patterson back, and we have (senior Nick) Stavinoha back; that's four guys," said head coach Smoke Laval. "Really we could start a team where they've all been here. As far as the mental approach, yeah we had two guys hit .390 (last year), but the other guys, instead of hitting .330 might hit .342, and these guys can hit .340, and instead of this guy hitting .310 he will hit .339, and so forth and so on."

The loss of Zeringue and Holt, coupled with the loss of infielder Ivan Naccarata, left the Tigers without three major components of the 2003-04 College World Series teams, but Laval's redshirting of Stewart and Sprowl, and the emergence of 2004 designated hitter Stavinoha, has LSU loaded in the outfield, a head coaching decision that has turned a potential liability into an asset.

"Well, a third of your club is pretty big, I know it only sounds like three but that's the top three of your offense if you look at it," Laval said, "but Bruce Sprowl, Quinn Stewart, Nick Stavinoha can play the outfield, so it's maybe who's going to play DH, so to speak."

For Stewart, who held down the designated hitter position before handing over the reins to Stavinoha, where he plays in 2005 – outfield or DH – is not a concern, as long as he is in the lineup.

"I've been practicing this fall in left," Stewart said. "I want to start, everyone wants to. Hopefully I can, however Smoke wants to do the lineup is how it is, I'll have to find my way in and fill in where I need to. Starting or in the outfield or DHing like I did my first year, wherever I fit in."

Sprowl may not be any taller, and whether or not he is any more of a baller will be discovered the old-fashioned way once the season begins on February 11, but one thing is certain – the Tigers do not plan on taking any steps backward next season, and Sprowl and Stewart have every intention of being right in the middle of the quest for a sixth national championship.

That in itself is worth a suggestion for batting music to rival Sprowl's for appropriateness.

Ev'rybody's building the big ships and the boats,

Some are building monuments,

Others, jotting down notes,

Ev'rybody's in despair,

Ev'ry girl and boy

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here,

Ev'rybody's gonna jump for joy.

Come all without, come all within,

You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn

- The Mighty Quinn – Bob Dylan

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