April 7, 2008
By Laura McCrystal, Sports Information Student Assistant
This season, junior infielder Evan Sharpley and freshman pitcher Ryan Sharpley likely will become the first brother duo to each earn monograms for the Notre Dame baseball team during the same season in 40 years. At least 11 other duos or trios of brothers are known to have picked up monograms with Notre Dame baseball, with the last occurring in 1968 with Frank and Bill Orga.
Evan and Ryan hail from Marshall, Mich., along with their parents and one younger sister. In high school, Evan was a three-sport athlete at Marshall High School, playing football, basketball, and baseball all four years. Meanwhile, Ryan played three years of football and four years of baseball at MHS.
Currently, Evan is majoring in history at Notre Dame, and said that after graduation he would like to pursue a career as both a teacher and a coach. Ryan, who is currently enrolled in the University’s First Year of Studies program, is still undecided about his major, but plans to enter the College of Arts and Letters in the fall. After college, Ryan hopes that he will be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft and pursue a career in professional baseball.
The younger Sharpley always knew that he wanted to focus on baseball at the collegiate level. Evan, on the other hand, continues to pursue two sports, also spending time as a quarterback for the Notre Dame football team.
Both of the Sharpleys said that their decisions to come to Notre Dame involved the mixture of strength in both academics and athletics that the University has to offer. Evan’s college decision revolved around schools where he would be able to play both football and baseball. He looked at some of the schools in the Big Ten Conference, but settled on Notre Dame because he would have the combination of playing two sports and an excellent academic atmosphere.
“I wanted a school that would let me play both sports and obviously there’s a great academic tradition here, too,” Evan said.
He is currently a corner infielder for the Irish, playing positions he enjoys because they are the location of so much action on the field. While he spent time playing third base early in the season, he has since switched to first base and has been the starting first baseman in several games. Evan said that his favorite moment on the field during his time at Notre Dame occurred earlier this season on March 4 at the Papa John’s Challenge in West Palm Beach, Fla., when he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Irish an 11-10 victory over Maine. For the season, Evan is batting .323 with a team-high 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in in 23 games (16 starts). As a two-sport athlete, Evan also saw action at quarterback for the Irish football team last fall, playing in eight games and starting twice. He completed 77 of 140 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns in 2007.
During previous baseball seasons, Evan participated in spring football practices, which meant splitting his time between his two sports. Both Evan and head baseball coach Dave Schrage noted that it was challenging to practice with both baseball and football practices because he could not be at all of the practices for either sport. This spring, however, Evan is taking time off from football to focus full-time on baseball. He said that he feels relieved at this change because it is extremely mentally and physically demanding to focus on two sports at once.
Schrage said that Evan has improved tremendously so far this season because he has been able to spend more time focusing solely on baseball. He observed that Evan has taken great strides in both his fielding and hitting, and that his improvements will be a great asset to the team.
Being two years older than Ryan, Evan was able to give his brother advice about college selections when it came time for Ryan to commit to a school. Ryan noted, however, that he felt neither pressured nor influenced by Evan to choose Notre Dame. Evan tried to present Ryan with both the benefits and drawbacks of coming to Notre Dame, which Ryan said was helpful in his decision process. Evan did admit that although he wanted Ryan to make the best personal college choice, he selfishly hoped throughout the process that his brother would settle on Notre Dame.
Ryan said that his final decision, like Evan’s, came down to “a great balance of academics and athletics.” Evan conveyed his excitement at his younger brother’s decision by expressing that having Ryan join him at Notre Dame has been one of the highlights of his college experience thus far.
Despite only having begun pitching during his sophomore year of high school, Ryan is now a promising starting pitcher for the Irish. He said that he enjoys pitching because pitchers have constant control over the flow of the game. Schrage noted that since Ryan has become a starting pitcher, he has a great deal of talent and potential to improve during his four years with Notre Dame baseball. This season, Ryan has pitched in three games, starting twice, and has a record of 1-1 with a 2.70 earned-run average in 10 innings. He also has nine strikeouts and five walks, and opponents are hitting only .156 against him thus far in 2008.
Now that they are both at Notre Dame, the Sharpley brothers are enjoying the benefits of attending the same school. They described their relationship as extremely close, and they spend a great deal of time together outside of practice. Evan gives his brother advice about classes, time management, and adjusting to his freshman year of college. Ryan said that Evan is his best friend, adding, “We were pretty close before [I came to Notre Dame], but it has helped just being closer in proximity, which has definitely gotten us closer.”
While most athletes do not get a chance to play alongside a sibling, the experience is not new for the Sharpley brothers. They had the opportunity to be teammates both before and during high school, and both of them express enthusiasm at having the chance to play Notre Dame baseball together. Evan noted that it is certainly rare and unique to be able to play with his brother at the college level. Ryan commented about having his brother as a teammate, “It was great that we got to play together for a while in high school, but it’s a totally different level now that we’re both here in college together. It’s a great opportunity for both of us.”
As much as the Sharpley brothers enjoy being able to support each other at Notre Dame, they also both describe their relationship as competitive. They both are quick to mention that they have always competed against each other in every facet of life.
The competitive side of the brothers’ relationship was especially apparent when Ryan pitched against Evan in batting practice, which occurred twice during preseason practices. Ryan had not pitched to his brother before, since he was just making the change to becoming a pitcher, and so the match-up between the brothers was not equal. Now that they are in college and there is a more level playing field between their abilities, the brothers eagerly anticipated facing each other at batting practice.
Before they had faced each other in the batting cage, Ryan recalled that he taunted Evan and threatened to strike him out. The next day, he did succeed in striking out his older brother. He struck him out again the second time that they faced each other during batting practice, and noted with a smile that these accomplishments have given him bragging rights over Evan.
When asked about the match-ups, Evan responded that Ryan certainly never misses a chance to brag and to remind his brother about the strikeouts. Schrage added that watching the brothers face each other at batting practice was an extraordinary experience because it created an interesting, competitive, and intense dynamic between the two.
Evan and Ryan may enjoy competing against each other, but it is clear that they value their friendship and the opportunity to spend time together both on and off the field at Notre Dame. Schrage commented that he enjoys watching the Sharpleys operate as a tandem. He added that although Ryan and Evan serve different roles on the team, they are both extremely hardworking.
Ryan described that his favorite moment so far this season was his first appearance as starting pitcher for the Irish during a game against Lehigh, because he got to start the game alongside Evan, who was playing third base. Evan also commented, “It’s really fun to see my brother out on the mound while I’m playing.” Ryan summed up the opportunity to play with his brother at Notre Dame as “the experience of a lifetime.”