TAYLORS: Dominique Taylor and Taylor Sparks share more than just a name; they discuss their similar approach to the game of baseball.
As a freshman in 2012, Taylor Sparks, also known as “Spark-Plug,” hit for a .202 average and led the ’Eaters with three home runs.
“It was a little shocking, coming out of high school and going to a big name baseball school like Irvine,” the 6-foot-4-inch third baseman said. “You kind of expect to contribute here and there, but you don’t really expect to be a big part of the team.”
Starting in 39 of 45 games played, Sparks was handed a fair amount of responsibility as a newcomer, and rightfully so.
The first-year drove in 20 runs, including two walk-off game winners — one for the edge over Pacific and one in an exhibition game against Japan Railroad.
“I was put in the game last year, and that’s when I really got my nerves out,” Sparks said. “I had the opportunity to get used to college games.”
Sparks spent his summer with the Wenatchee Apple Sox, the 2012 West Coast League Champions. There, he led the Apple Sox in home runs, with nine, and paced his squad with a .709 slugging percentage.
Fast forward a few months, and there’s another “Taylor” on the UCI roster.
Dominique Taylor, the 6-foot-1-inch center fielder from Salt Lake Community College, burst onto the UCI baseball scene and is currently hitting .320 with seven doubles, two triples and a home run.
Taylor quickly became a crowd favorite. As Super Fan said, “Dominique Taylor was kicked out of Utah because he was melting all of the snow.”
While they share the same field now, the two Taylors’ routes to Irvine vary dramatically.
From Long Beach, California, Sparks graduated from St. John Bosco High School, where he also lettered in football as a receiver and was named the school’s 2008-2009 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Signing with Irvine was a decision based on both baseball and academics.
“Just like everybody else, I was just trying to find the school that would take me,” Sparks said. “A big part of it for me and my parents was going to an academic school. I came [to Irvine] on a visit and loved it and loved the coaches.”
Taylor was born in Germany, where he lived for a couple of years until moving to San Diego with his military family at the age of six. Once in San Diego, he played baseball for the first time in the States. Taylor lived in San Diego with his family until high school, when the Taylors relocated to northern Utah.
Now joining the ’Eaters as a third-year transfer, Taylor is loving what it means to play California baseball. Having experienced the rigid Utah winters, Taylor appreciates the ability to practice outdoors all year long and loves the big-time night games.
“Friday night, we get a ton of fans, it’s a great feeling,” Taylor said.
While Taylor might have more college experience under his belt, Sparks and the younger guys have an edge when it comes to Irvine experience, though the two joke that Taylor only has to do the “freshman grunt work” on occasion.
“Now that we’ve gotten to know each other, I feel like I’ve been here for a while,” Taylor said. “It’s always good when the team gets along, especially on defense, and we’ve been communicating really well.”
Sparks notes that the squad’s chemistry this year is contributing to the team’s 16-8 record thus far.
“Especially compared to last year, our team is a lot closer this year,” Sparks said. “This year, compared to last year, we have stronger leadership and better chemistry.”
While their roads to becoming Anteaters differ, the two share a thing or two, including a powerful philosophy.
Both Taylors are social ecology majors and answered the question identically when asked to finish the sentence “Baseball is …”
“Life,” they both replied.
However, their explanation makes them more similar than not, as the two piggy-backed and explained how they approach their sport.
“As a baseball player, you face a lot of failure,” Sparks said. “Baseball is a game of failure, it comes with the territory.”
Taylor added, “In baseball, you have to have a short-term memory — after you lose or win, it doesn’t matter. You have to forget what happened yesterday, and tomorrow’s a new day. You have to grind it out each and every day.”
Sparks refers to baseball as his way of life.
“What I try to do, everyday I come out and just focus one game at a time, one play at a time, one inning at a time,” Sparks said.
While Taylor sees America’s pastime as his way of finding balance.
“Baseball really builds character. It teaches you to have a humble mentality,” Taylor said. “One day you can go 4-4 and the next day you go 0-4 with four strikeouts. You have to stay level-headed, and not just on the field, but off the field too. And that’s why baseball is [our] life.”
Before every at-bat for Taylor, Wiz Khalifa’s “Taylor Gang” pounds through Anteater Ballpark like a double off the left field wall. With solid mindsets, strong bats and quick base-running, opposing teams have reason to fear the Taylor Gang.