Thank You Gabe Gross!
I still remember coming home after a Tampa Bay Rays game on April 23,2008 and watching ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” when Brewer outfielder Gabe Gross sprinted across home plate and was met by an impromptu Brew Crew team meeting after a walk-off victory. How wild that night must have felt to Gross before he wandered into the Manager’s office that night to find out he got traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
A lot has happened to the former Auburn University quarterback since that rollercoaster April evening. In the near future the Rays might end up not extending an arbitration offer to Gross. And as a non-tendered player, he will be seeking employment somewhere else for 2010. But let’s not forget, Gross has brought a great blend of on-field moments for Rays fans over the last two seasons.
And before he is gone from the Rays, I want to remember the shy outfielder and thank him for great moments with the Rays. Who can forget his 3 walk-off RBIs in 2008 that not only tied a Rays club record, but produced some special moments in Rays lore. One that quickly comes to my mind is his 9th inning home run off Chicago White Sox reliever Matt Thorton in 2008 that produced the first home run off a left-hander in his career.
We can’t remember Gross for just his offensive contributions of facing mostly right-handers over the last two years for the Rays. Gross was the defensive “go-to” outfielder for Rays Manager Joe Maddon over the past two seasons, usually as a late inning defensive replacement. In 2008, Gross was sent into a Rays game 39 times as a late inning defensive move by Maddon. Over his two seasons with the Rays, Gross started 149 times for the team while appearing in a total of 255 Rays games.
And Gross did have an offensive presence for the Rays illustrated by 14 of his 38 RBI in 2008 either tying or giving the Rays the lead in a contest. But that is not where Gross made the biggest impression as a Ray. His defensive game will be remembered long after he is gone from the unlimited photo opportunities where he was shown sprawled all over the field and walls of Tropicana Field. You never had to question his effort in a game. He always gave 100 percent.
Who can forget the moments when Gross was either jumping or bouncing off the outfield wall to grab an unusual out for the Rays. And you know that the Rays opposition did heed running on Gross’s rocket arm. And the second guessing of teams helped him produce 9 outfield assists the last two seasons gunning down runners trying to advance. There always seemed to be more tension in the air if there was a runner in scoring position, and a ball hit towards Gross in rightfield.
In his short time with the Rays, Gross embodied everything Maddon and the Rays Coaching staff wanted from a player to exhibit professionalism and pride to this young Rays team. Gross worked hard every single game, and never took a single play off, or went half speed at anything he did in the field or at the plate. He was an excellent example of professionalism that others should model their behaviors after in this league.
Some fans call that sort of person boring or predictable, while other see the truth that Gross respects the game of baseball and treasures his God given abilities to play this game at this high level. While with the Rays, Gross became a father for the first time, and it elevated his game. Gross gave the Rays fans his dedication and total effort at every opportunity, and another team would be lucky to have him on their roster.
It is rare for a child who early in their life dreams of playing professional baseball and finally gets the chance to take in the journey to finally being able to tip his cap on a Major League field. Gross will forever be remembered as a player on the Rays 2008 American League Championship team. But the vivid memory of Gross embedded in my mind is of a play seemingly hit over his head that he leaped for high above the wall and pulled in to rob a potential home run from an opponent.
The play stole my breath away for a moment until you saw him unfold the deep pocket of the glove on his right hand and toss the baseball back towards the Rays infield like any other routine play. That play was nothing special to Gross, because every moment on the field is special to him, and every play was just another way to show his appreciation for this game. And it has also given each of us a memory to remember.