July 23, 2007
by Scott Ball (this story originally appeared in the summer issue of Cal Sports Quarterly
For Tyson Ross, Cal's supremely talented sophomore right-hander, it is all about family.
In Ross' case, it is not only about his immediate family - father Willie, mother Jean, sister Francesca and brother Joe - but his Golden Bear family, as well. For this phenomenal college pitcher who is developing into one of the school's all-time greats, the campus of the University of California has almost always felt like home.
"I used to go to Cal baseball camps every summer growing up," explained Ross, who was raised in Oakland and attended Bishop O'Dowd High School. "First it was former coach Bob Milano's camp when I was eight, then it was David Esquer's camp from then on. I would even go to the All Sports Camps up at Strawberry Canyon. It seemed like I was always at Cal playing sports. It was a part of my growing up."
Ross has now matured into a robust 6-5, 215 pounds and is utilizing all the skills he acquired as a Cal youth camper to the fullest of his abilities. He is the Bears' No. 1 starter on the mound and has established himself among the upper echelon of collegiate pitchers. After an impressive freshman campaign in 2006 in which he was selected honorable mention All-Pac-10, going 6-4 with a 3.19 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 84.2 innings, Ross was even better in 2007.
This past spring, Ross was named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top collegiate baseball player, and was among the Pac-10 leaders in strikeouts, earned run average, innings pitched and opponent batting average. He was selected the March 25 National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball after striking out 16 batters, only three away from the school record of 19 set by Larry Colton in 1963, with only one walk in seven innings against Oral Roberts.
On the year, Ross was a hard-luck 6-6, but had a 2.49 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 115.2 innings. An indication of his tough fortune, he lost four, one-run games, including two, 1-0 decisions. Ross threw at least six innings 15 times during the season, including a complete game at Stanford March 2.
For his career, Ross already has 205 strikeouts in 200.1 innings with a 2.79 ERA. His strikeout total places him ninth on Cal's career list and just 79 K's away from the school record.
"I remember when I first stepped on the mound as a freshman, I was thinking about all the Cal games I had watched growing up," said Ross. "And I think about all the kids watching me now, just like I used to watch Cal players when I was young. I learned back then, watching those games at Evans Diamond, I wanted to be a Bear."
Ross also learned how to throw his dominating curveball from his future pitching coach as a youth camper at Evans Diamond.
"I learned how to throw a curveball from coach (Dan) Hubbs at Cal Camp when I was 15," said Ross. "With his help, it came really easy for me."
It is not every day that a coach gets a chance to teach a youngster a craft, and then has the benefit of coaching that player in college and seeing him develop into one of the nation's best.
"No doubt it is a unique circumstance to be the one who taught Tyson how to throw a breaking pitch and then to have the opportunity to see everything progress for him," said Hubbs, who is now in his eighth season mentoring the Cal pitching staff. "He has a chance to be better than anyone I have ever coached at Cal. He has unbelievable poise on the mound. The key to Tyson is his feel for the game ... how instinctual his pitching is. He is an excellent athlete, a complete pitcher and his work ethic is second to none. He is a joy to coach. But as good of a baseball player as he is, he is an even better person."
With his engaging smile and easy-going manner, as well as his ability on the field, Ross has become an ambassador of sorts for the Cal baseball program. He is part of Cal's youth brigade that listed 26 underclassmen on the 39-man squad this past spring, including freshman outfielder Jeff Kobernus, who was a high school teammate of Ross at Bishop O'Dowd.
"It is a lot of fun to have `Kobe' on the team," said Ross. "We are starting to have fun here like we did in high school ... going out and having a good time on the field and winning. I really like this team. It is mostly Bay Area kids who have played together on all-star teams or against each other. We have a feel of local pride with a lot of friends and family around to cheer us on. I love it here at Cal - the school, the athletics, the town of Berkeley. We have great coaches. Coach Hubbs and coach Esquer are great people to work with. With coaches like that, the sky is the limit. I am really looking forward to the future."
In addition to pitching for the Bears, Ross also has experience as a two-year member of the USA Junior National team in 2004 and 2005. A highlight for the Oakland native in international competition came in the fall of 2005 when he threw five shutout innings against powerhouse Cuba in a tournament in Villahermosa, Mexico. This summer, Ross will be with the USA National team for the Pan American Games in Brazil and World Championships in The Netherlands.
Having had the opportunity to travel around the globe representing the United States, it is his relationship with his family that helped convince Ross to stay local and attend Cal.
"My family is very important to me," said Ross, whose father, Willie, is a pediatrician, and mother, Jean, is a nurse at the Children's Hospital in Oakland. "That is why I went to Cal, to stay close to home so my family could see me play."
Intending to major in American studies, Ross would like to coach some day after completing his degree and playing baseball professionally. With his tall frame, good velocity and wide array of pitches, the Cal hurler is projected be one of the nation's top picks in the June 2008 Major League Draft.
When time allows, Ross also enjoys helping his dad coach his younger brother, Joe, 13, who pitches and plays shortstop, just like Tyson did as a youngster. Ross' sister, Frankie, also an athlete, is a senior at Bishop O'Dowd and will be playing soccer at Portland State next fall.
"Beyond Tyson's ability, he is a product of a good family," said Esquer. "He is the total package in what you would want in a college athlete ... he does all the little things that make someone successful. His Friday night performances have been as good as anyone we have ever had. Tyson is so wellliked that players from his junior national teams want to come to Cal. He is one of those people both likeable to younger kids and likeable to adults. He has a smile that is infectious."