FROSTBURG, Md. - Frostburg State pitcher Greg Ross (Towson, Md./Loch Raven) was curious, and rightfully so. He’d been contacted by at least six Major League Baseball clubs in the lead-up to the 2011 amateur draft. But as he followed along with the draft’s progress online, his internet connection froze somewhere during the tenth round.
Thanks to his head coach, Guy Robertson, Ross still knew almost immediately when the Atlanta Braves made him their 18th round selection on Tuesday. Following along at home while making dinner, Robertson caught Ross’ name pop up out of the corner of his eye. Needless to say, dinner was put on hold as he called his star pitcher, beating Braves player scout Gene Kerns to the punch in notifying him.
“At the same time I was talking to coach, Gene was calling me,” Ross said today at a news conference to announce his signing with Atlanta. “I saw the number come up, and I said, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening.’ My face lit up, and it was glowing the whole time. It was exciting.”
“It was complete elation,” Robertson said. “To see ‘Frostburg State University’ and one of your players’ names pop up that early in the draft, it was an unbelievable feeling.”
And with that, Ross fulfilled a dream by being drafted.
“I figured there was going to be a chance,” he said. “I didn’t know when. I thought later in the draft it could happen. I had hopes, but I wasn’t expecting to go in the 18th round.”
Ross becomes the third Bobcat to be drafted by a major league club, and the first since 1978. John Elder was selected by the New York Mets that year, while current Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974.
“Being drafted - you look at Jim Riggleman, a manager in the big leagues - makes me a part of a group of a very few,” Ross said.
Ross’ journey to the Braves started by chance, with Kerns sitting next to Robertson at a game this spring at nearby Allegany College of Maryland and chatting about possible professional prospects on the Bobcats’ roster. Ross’ name came up, and Kerns had the opportunity to see him pitch in a side session and an intrasquad scrimmage.
Kerns came away impressed enough to give Robertson a rough estimate that Ross could be selected between rounds 15 and 20.
His 2011 stats and accolades strongly warranted a selection. The right-hander posted an 11-2 record with a 1.49 ERA in a team-high 90.2 innings. He also had a team-low .196 opponents’ batting average.
The senior finished with a single-season record of 112 strikeouts, breaking the old mark of 103 set in 1972.
Those numbers earned him selections to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) All-America First Team and the D3Baseball.com All-America Second Team. He was also named the ABCA Mid-Atlantic Pitcher of the Year, the Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was also a CAC first team member.
After coming over from CCBC Essex, Ross posted a 4-1 record in 2010 while striking out 53 batters in 59 innings. In two seasons and 149.2 innings pitched with the Bobcats, he did not allow a home run while punching out 165 batters.
“You look for good, easy arm action, little effort in a delivery, where there’s not a lot that has to be fixed. And this young man has it. I can guarantee you that,” said Kerns, who actually scouted Riggleman in the early 1970’s when he worked for the Kansas City Royals.
The Braves made college players a top priority in the 2011 draft. Thirty-nine of their 50 picks will enter the system with some collegiate experience. That experience should help Ross become more quickly acclimated to professional baseball.
“He will not find anything as competitive as what he’s getting into throughout the rest of his life,” Kerns said. “There are so many young players out there that are striving to make the big leagues.”
Ross counts himself as one of those striving to make it to the top, and his work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coach.
“There were days in January and February where there’s a foot of snow outside, and I’m leaving an hour or two after practice and he’s running, or he’s down in the weight room, or he’s wanting to throw more,” Robertson said. “It was always something different every day. His work ethic is unparalleled.”
His journey will begin in the Gulf Coast League. The rookie league is based in Florida with teams competing from mid-June to late August in the spring training homes of their parent clubs. The Braves are based in Lake Buena Vista at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Just outside of Orlando, it’s property of Disney.
“He’ll be going to Disney World every day,” Kerns said with a laugh.
That almost seems fitting, really. But even if he didn’t have to report to work at the Happiest Place on Earth, there’s little doubt that at least a few of Greg Ross’ dreams have already come true.