There are far less random places for three baseball players from Johnson County to talk shop than Lewiston, Idaho.
And yet, if time allows and schedules were to somehow line up, T.J. Bass, Dustin Sprong and Drue Young might actually have the opportunity to do just that.
But roughly 2,000 miles from home?
Therein lies one of the lesser-known privileges of being one of the 10 baseball teams qualified to take part in the annual NAIA World Series.
Bass is a fifth-year outfielder for Taylor, while Sprong, a senior middle relief pitcher for the University of the Cumberlands (Kentucky), also finds himself out west. Indiana Wesleyan features sophomore Young at the top of its pitching rotation.
As the eldest of the three, Bass, the former Greenwood catcher, might be appreciating his sport’s ultimate showcase the most.
“Coming into this year, it was more about enjoying this last season,” said Bass, who leads the Trojans in home runs (18) and slugging percentage (.622), and is second in runs batted in (56). “To be able to do what we’ve done and all the support we’ve received on campus, it’s just a testament to what Taylor baseball has been and will always be.
“And having Indiana Wesleyan going … our campuses are 15 minutes apart. The fact all three of us players from this area have the chance to go out there and try to do something special is crazy.”
Play begins today at Lewis-Clark State College, the tournament host every season since 2000. The Warriors have taken full advantage of the familiarity, capturing 19 World Series titles, including a six-year run from 1987-92.
Grand Canyon is next on the list, but is a mere blip in Lewis-Clark’s rear-view mirror with four NAIA championships.
Presented the formidable task of facing the Warriors in the opening round is Indiana Wesleyan — meaning Young, a Center Grove product, will be handed the baseball.
Young takes the mound with a 6-2 record, 3.84 earned-run average and 89 strikeouts in his 91 1/3 innings.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s so surreal being a 4 seed going into our opening round. It’s crazy,” Young said. “Really, I’m just looking forward to another opportunity, and obviously, I’m looking forward to going out west because I’ve never been before.”
Young insists he knows Bass, but only through friendly postgame interaction the past couple of seasons (both schools are members of the Crossroads League). He doesn’t know Sprong, though both have older brothers who pitch at Division III NCAA regional qualifier Franklin College (Jackson Young and Dylan Sprong).
Considering what Taylor, Cumberlands and IWU have achieved in recent weeks, the fact that all three qualified for the World Series appears less accidental by the moment.
Taylor holds a 40-15 record, IWU is 39-18-1 and Cumberlands is 49-6.
In all three cases, history is being made.
Indiana Wesleyan and Cumberlands are making their inaugural visit to the World Series; Taylor went pre-Woodstock with a 1969 appearance.
Sprong, the hard-throwing former Indian Creek pitcher who is part of his fourth program in as many years, has seen action in 14 games this season with a 1-1 record, one save and an earned-run average of 4.91. He’s fanned 39 batters in only 25 2/3 innings.
His somewhat nomadic college experience makes Sprong that much more excited to be in Lewiston, which hugs the state line separating Idaho and Washington.
“I thought the World Series, whether it was Division I, JUCO or NAIA, was always a far-fetched dream,” said Sprong, whose previous stops were Xavier, Howard College (Texas) and Middle Tennessee State.
“The fact we made it is awesome. I’m really appreciative of being able to play and be part of something big.”