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Prep baseball: Murray pitcher all about staying focused

Published April 4, 2014 7:18 pm

Prep baseball • Spencer Downs pushes his problems aside, keeps his mind on the mound.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Murray • At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Spencer Downs is an imposing figure.

But the scariest thing about the Murray senior pitcher isn't his size. Or his 85-mph fastball. Or his curveball. Or his slider.

Quite simply, it's his ability to stay focused.

The pressure of seeing unfamiliar faces showing up at games to clock those pitches — a clear sign he's getting looks from scouts — has been the least of the peripheral issues he's had to deal with.

Downs' father, John, was hospitalized for several months with the H1N1 virus, several bouts of pneumonia, and a whole list of life-threatening ailments.

"It has been hard knowing I could have lost my dad," Downs said.

So how is he performing amid such personal chaos?

Well, he recently no-hit Wasatch through four innings, before being lifted by coach Marce Wilson so a younger player could see some game time before the mercy rule ended the game in the fifth.

"He has a quiet confidence to him," Wilson said. "He lets his ethic fuel the inner confidence, and it has been so amazing to watch that. He takes ownership for the game. Sure, he may pump his fist every now and then, but it's the inside mentality that makes him fierce."

Downs has been all business. In recent months, he gave up a spot on the basketball team, then started scaling back fielding and hitting routines to work solely on polishing his mechanics.

"When Spencer pitches, the hitters should take note at how he looks at every pitch with purpose," Wilson added. "He doesn't sit in the dugout, he studies what he's going to do when he returns to the mound."

His dad's return to health has been a big motivating factor, as well.

At the start of this season, John was transported by wheelchair to see his Spencer pitch his first game of the season. While John is still on oxygen, he is expected to be released from a care center in Murray and return home next week.

"Luckily, he has willed himself into making it to the games in person, which is another reason to give it my all," Spencer said.

The situation has certainly helped Downs maintain perspective, not that he needed it. He's never forgotten what a coach told him when he was 12 years old.

"He said baseball is a means, not an end," said Downs. "He is right. Of course everyone wants to be in the MLB, but I'd like to use baseball as a means to get a scholarship and an education, and we'll go from there."

For now, though, Downs will just continue to focus on sending batters down swinging, as Murray looks to not only win Region 7 again, but to earn the Class 4A state title that eluded the Spartans last year. While region play will be more difficult this year, Downs is confident that he'll go out on top.

And so is his dad, for one simple reason: "He hates to see his team lose," said John Downs.

The bitter taste of last year's loss in the playoffs is just more fuel for the fire as he prepares for his next step after high school baseball.

"I've spent a lot of the year trying to improve so we end up somewhere better than fifth in state," Spencer Downs said. "Everyone knows a state championship is gold for everyone involved. …

"I want to go out on top and make this year the year. I've worked hard. Our schedule won't be easy, but I welcome what the next game holds."