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April 5, 2010

Ross makes Oakland homecoming

OAKLAND, Calif.-The last time that I saw Tyson Ross, he and the rest of the Cal baseball team were still reeling from being eliminated from the 2008 NCAA Baseball Tournament. Ross knew that that would be the last time he ever put on a Bears uniform.

We said our goodbyes, with me thanking Ross and several other members of that team for the time I had covering them for three seasons, and Ross saying that he hoped that, one day, I'd be able to interview him again. I told him, "I hope it's before a major league game."

And today, there he was, striding into the home locker room at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, a bounce in his step and a smile on his face that could span the entire Golden Gate. I was expecting a handshake. What I got was a hug.

"Well, here you are," smiles Ross, remembering that day over a year and a half ago, as he sits down at a table in the center of the Oakland Athletics' locker room. In about three hours, he'll take the field as a Major League player.

"I had no clue how long it would take," says Ross. "I believed it would happen, I just didn't know how long."

As it turned out, it took exactly 675 days from the last time Ross put on the blue and gold, to today, when he pulls on the green and gold for the first time in a big league game.

When Ross got the news on Saturday that he would make the A's Opening Day roster, he called every family member he could think of, and just couldn't wipe the smile off his face. As tall as Ross is-a towering 6-foot-6-he got a little extra altitude from all those clouds he was walking on. Good thing the clubhouse has high clearance.

Before finding out that he would begin this season in The Show, Ross found out that his former teammate, Allen Craig, would also be making his first big league roster with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I texted (Allen) the other day," he said. "When I found out that he made the team, I texted him like a day or two before I found out I made the team," said Ross. "That's pretty special."

But while Craig had a good feeling that he'd be breaking camp with the Cardinals, Ross was thought by many to just be in camp to get some more experience before being sent out to Triple-A Sacramento.

"Honestly, even in the Bay Bridge Series, I wasn't really thinking too much about it," said Ross about the possibility of making the A's. When he came north with the team, he just thought that he'd be in the Bay for two, maybe three days. "I just thought, hey, if they like me, maybe I'll hang around and get more experience working with the coaching staff and the catchers and get a feel for them all, but it wasn't until they told me that I was even really thinking about making the team or not."

Ross will fill Oakland's need for a long righty out of the bullpen, at least at first. His repertoire is just as impressive as it was in college, which should lead to some starting nods on the bump as the season wears on.

"I'm pretty much still throwing five or six right now, but it's all about throwing strikes and keeping the hitters off-balance," says Ross. "I don't throw the curve anymore. It's just pretty much slider, cutter for my breaking stuff, and my sinker's got a whole lot better since I was in college. I'm working on a change-up too."

Ross has also worked a bit on his motion during his time in the minors, extending his abbreviated stride in order to stave off potential injury. The switch has brought some unexpected boons, as well.

"They've worked on it a little bit and it's really helped my control and added a little bit of velocity, too," says Ross, who has shown a 93-95 mph fastball over his last several outings.

Sitting at his locker, with a No. 66 jersey hanging just below an engraved placard that bears his name, the 22-year-old Ross is perfectly calm. No rookie jitters, no butterflies. At least, not yet.

"I think, as soon as I get out there, under those lights, it'll hit me. First pitch, it'll kind of sink in a little bit. I'm looking forward to it," says Ross. "It's a new challenge and a great opportunity."

But before he gets his first pitch in, there's the Opening Day ritual of team introductions, where Ross will stand on the third base line in front of his hometown crowd.

"It's going to be a special moment," said Ross, who took the field three hours later at 6:55 p.m. "I'm just going to be so happy that my parents and my brother are going to be there to see. It's going to be something else."

Ross's younger brother Joe, who will be in attendance, is quite a talent himself, playing both third base and pitcher for his brother's alma mater-Bishop O'Dowd.

"He's good, man, he's really good," beams Tyson. "He's a junior right now, so he's still got a year, but he's trying to decide between Cal and UCLA right now. He'll be around the Pac-10 most likely."

As it stands, the two still live under the same roof, as Tyson bunks at his parents' house until he can find a place of his own. At least the commute will be easy.

"Obviously, once the season gets going, I'll be spending a lot of time here (at the stadium) and on the road, so it's pretty much just a bed at my parents'," Ross said.

And even though today, he woke up in that bed a major leaguer, he's still the same quiet and humble kid he was when I first craned my neck up to find out just how far up he kept going.

"It was nothing special, just the same as every morning. Got up, ate some breakfast, played with my dog," said Ross. "But there was something different about it."

Yeah. Wonder what it was.

Special thanks goes out to Oakland Athletics Director of Public Relations, Bob Rose.


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