Team Sports Vs. Life Prep: A Scholar-Athlete’s Story


Sean Aspinall, an Upland native, and Azusa Pacific’s baseball scholar-athlete has his nose to the grindstone again—but this time, not in New York or California on a collegiate All-Star summer team. The region 8, 2018 Academic All American who entered APU on a baseball scholarship is currently plugging away at his CPA exams, preparing to start his life career.

Sean, as committed to his study habits as to his PacWest champion team, was the “steady leader” through a grueling season, Cougar coach Paul Svagdis stated. “Sean stepped in and leads by example, he’s not afraid to take guys under his wing.”

How did faith fit in with this exemplary student who led his team in hits, batting average, RBI’s and 2nd on the team in home runs? How could he excel in academics and train tirelessly for baseball, a difficult feat for any collegiate? 

Recently, I spoke with Sean over the phone during an afternoon break, his usual study time. Sean grew up playing basketball and soccer, but latched on to baseball—the “town sport most of his friends played”—by ten years old. However, soccer launched him as a competitive football kicker for the Upland High School varsity team and created the dual opportunity to pursue either an athletic scholarship in football or one as a baseball fielder. Baseball won. “Kickers sit on the bench too long waiting to play—I had a lot more play time in baseball and I like the action,” Sean explained.

I asked how faith impacted his sport.

“When I first signed with APU (Azusa Pacific) I didn’t really understand the connection of baseball and playing in the name of Christ by giving glory to God while we play—being a Christian athlete at APU has a higher expectation than being an athlete at a public non-religious affiliated school.”

“You read about sports, drug abuse, sexual harassment and partying. It was different for us. We had to stay away and be more mature—that’s what it means to be a Christian athlete.”

Coach Svargis taught us to put our identity in something solid—in our relationship with Christ. That’s the strongest foundation we can have.

Their team also required give-back-to community events. “Some players really took it to heart and did charity organizations on top of school and sports which amazed me because it’s really hard to find time. We had little time for ourselves.”

Sean’s coach impacted his faith greatly in college. “Most athletes coming into college put their identity on performance. So when they’re doing well they’re happy and treating others well, but when they’re not they just bring everyone down with them. Coach Svargis taught us to put our identity in something solid—in our relationship with Christ. That’s the strongest foundation we can have. Then we’re not going up and down. My playing shouldn’t affect my identity because it’s not where I put my values.”

To someone who has had so many coaches, I wondered what makes a good one.

“My coach is a very, very tough guy. He holds anyone accountable for little things. Many kids were big fish in a little pond in high school, so it’s especially hard for freshman and sophomores never having been chewed out. I started confused too. His purpose was to create tough-minded individuals.

“By junior and senior year we get it. ‘He’s so mean to me,’ changed to, ‘this is to make me better, to benefit the team.’” Sean revealed, “in our case (Cougars) the older ones were able to get the younger ones on board early—one reason for our team’s success.

“I had to go back to my identity being in Christ so I could come to the field and let it be a brand new day.”

The core of us were together three or four years. We were an experienced team and knew what to do and what we had to do to work together.”

Sean has experienced the feeling of, “letting the team down.” He navigated pain from an unknown injury during his sophomore year. Finally, he took his third year off for right hip surgery. Coming back he struggled. “I had to go back to my identity being in Christ so I could come to the field and let it be a brand new day. So what I did yesterday doesn’t impact what I  would do today or the future.”

Did he get any satisfaction during his return year although his stats and performance diminished? How did the difficult junior season link to his senior success?

“My senior focus was staying healthy and being an everyday outfielder. I spent a lot more time in my workouts stretching, doing lighter weights and injury-specific prevention. Keeping the injuries out and carrying the exact game plan through the senior season helped toward a full season of success.”

And I’d talk to teammates. The great thing about being in sports is you’ll never be afraid to talk to teammates because they’re like your brotherhood, your fraternity through your whole college career. We’re all going different places now but we’ll look forward to the alumni golf event in October.” The grind allowed Sean to live out his goals of his “eye-opening” year. He credits all the instructors for encouragement, “especially, the super supportive accounting professors who talked to me about life, and what to look forward to in life after baseball…and studying for the CPA exam.” He acknowledged in particular, “One counselor I ran into all the time—we’d talk about life and faith.”

Last year Sean faced stiff competition during a six-week audit, tax internship with Moss- Adams Accounting firm based in Irvine.

“It was pretty overwhelming,” he recalls. “Someone’s always watching you and interacting to see if you’re really interested and if they can work with you more than your production. Any little sense of doubt…it shows. I was grateful for a job offer.”

What’s an appropriate life verse for a contender who is about to reap some well-earned rewards, including downtime.

“My favorite verse is iron sharpens iron as people sharpen people, in Proverbs 27:17. It’s a powerful message. You don’t want to take the easy way or you won’t improve. You always want to challenge yourself and surround yourself with people who challenge you because that’s how you will gain the greatest benefit in everything.”

Well, so much for downtime.

Dee Aspin is the author of newly released, The Dating Dock, (an illustrated metaphor for millennials), along with dogSpirations and Lord of the Ringless. Dee enjoys writing human and animal interest stories inspiring faith, hope, and love. Credits include CBN, Barbour, Revel, Guideposts. For more about Dee, go to


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