We got word on Thursday (from Susan Slusser) that the White Sox had hired Greg Sparks as the team's new Assistant Hitting Coach. We may not normally dive much into that level of hire, but in this case, it has significance in team and theme.
Sparks worked closely with current Hitting Coach Todd Steverson in the Oakland organization, with Sparks eventually taking Steverson's previous job. That's the theme aspect - the White Sox now have both top hitting minds lifted from the same organization. An organization that has tended to deploy hitters more focused on getting on base than perhaps we'd seen from the club before. This should trickle down to the minors as well, in a change of philosophy.
The team aspect? Turns out Sparks has a pretty deep history with the White Sox too.
Sparky’s roots go through the South Side of Chicago thanks to his father Joe. The elder Sparks was an infielder in the White Sox organization for five years (1966 – 1969, 1973), a minor league manager for eight (1970-1974, 1977 – part of 1979), and one year as the third base coach in Chicago. In 1979, Greg served as a batboy for the Chicago White Sox, where he was on hand for a double-header against Detroit on July 12th. The 15-year old was indirectly part of the most notorious promotion in Major League Baseball history: Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park.
The Arizona native returned to Phoenix with his love of baseball intact, and his place in White Sox history solidified. The Shadow Mountain High School and Mesa Community College product was signed by the San Diego Padres following the January 1984 draft and enjoyed a twelve year minor league playing career. The young left hander played 90% of his games at first base – the remaining as a corner outfielder, and, of course, being a lefty, took the mound once or twice each season.
A quick look at his career playing numbers:
As a batter, Sparks accumulated 1,010 hits - including 120 home runs - along with 456 walks, 1,050 strike outs, and even 22 stolen bases in 1,270 career games. He boasts a career OPS of .699. In nine games as a pitcher, the lefty owns a career ERA and WHIP of 4.50 and 1.90 respectively. He averaged one inning pitched per season, gave up only one home run, walked seven and struck out two.
As a minor league manager, all with Oakland affiliates, Sparks began his career in 1998 with Single-A Southern Oregon of the Northwest League, where he was named co-manager of the year in 1999. From 2000 - 2002, he led the Modesto, California team, then on to Double-A Midland, Texas for a year.
After the 2003 season, Sparks served as Oakland’s Minor league hitting coordinator for eight seasons. In 2011, Sparks returned to a specific team as the hitting coach for Double-A Midland. Sparks’ successor as hitting coordinator was Todd Steverson, who enjoyed great success before joining the White Sox as the big league hitting coach.
This time last year, it was Sparks who was the hitting coach for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. He worked with prospects such as Blue Jays’ Dalton Pompey, Cubs’ Addison Russell, & Rays’ Daniel Robertson to name a few before once again becoming Oakland’s minor league hitting coordinator for the 2015 season - the job Steverson vacated.
Greg Sparks is a great guy, with great insight and results. As he is reunited with old pal Todd Steverson, it brings to mind a balancing of the universe (Yin and Yang); blending of opposite strengths; Steverson’s gregarious and Sparks’ lower-keyed personalities. Sure to be a winning combination for the Chicago White Sox Major League team.
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