PEORIA, Ariz. -- Manager Scott Servais has been looking for ways to connect and inspire his new Mariners team, which led to an interesting introduction on Thursday when Ed Sproull, a 61-year-old season-ticket holder from Bellevue, Wash., addressed the club in its morning meeting.Sproull lost his left leg in a
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Manager Scott Servais has been looking for ways to connect and inspire his new Mariners team, which led to an interesting introduction on Thursday when Ed Sproull, a 61-year-old season-ticket holder from Bellevue, Wash., addressed the club in its morning meeting.
Sproull lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 1981 when he was driving while impaired, spent 72 months in federal prison on drug charges in the early '90s ... and eventually turned his life around, earned a computer science degree with honors, now works as a senior software engineer at Microsoft and has run more than 40 triathlons, including eight half-Ironman or longer events.
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Servais met Sproull this week when the Mariners fan -- vacationiong with his wife, Linda, at their winter home in Sun City, Ariz. -- was shagging balls in the outfield during one of the Mariners' practice sessions in a program the club has introduced this spring that has some community members helping out each day during batting practice.
"He has one leg, and I was curious, so I walked out by the bucket and had a conversation with him," Servais said. "He is a huge Felix [Hernandez] fan. He was there the day Felix threw his perfect game. He's been a longtime season-ticket holder.
"When I asked him, as nice as I could, 'What happened?' he proceeded to tell me his story. After about 15 minutes of it, I said, 'Would you be willing to come in and talk to our club?' and he said, 'Oh my gosh, I'd love to.'"
So a man who has spent years cheering for the Mariners had the tables turned on Thursday morning as he spoke to the 60 players in the team's clubhouse.
"I was totally, totally humbled to see the Mariners actually applaud for me," Sproull said. "I've applauded for them for many years."
"I work in computer software, so if you could make a bit of an analogy there, computers would work flawlessly and baseball would be perfect, but unfortunately, we have human beings involved," said Sproull, who is in his 16th year at Microsoft. "I'm like everyone in that room. No one got a seat in there that didn't overcome something. No one did a triathlon that didn't overcome something.
"Sometimes, the problems look bigger than they really, really are. People ask me all the time, 'How hard is it to run without the leg?' I don't know what to compare it to. I never ran with one. We're all human. We all do things, and sometimes, we expect the strangest result. We have to pick the pieces up when we screw up and go on. The story I have is simply: I was able to pick the pieces up and tell why."
Sproull said he's had a blast shagging balls in the outfield for the past week and has a newfound respect for outfielders who are able to track high flies in the Arizona sky. As an added bonus, he's been able to meet and chat with a few players and coaches.
But to get in front of the whole group and tell his story?
"This is the first time I've actually written out a speech," he said. "I was so nervous. I thought maybe if I wrote it down, I'd be able to sleep last night. But I don't think I said anything on the paper. I'm just totally humbled to have the opportunity and forever grateful. It's a memory I'll never forget."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.