The New Face Of Cal Baseball

April 25, 2007

By Ryan Gorcey Daily Californian

April 25, 2007

Berkeley, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- The Cal baseball team may not have Brennan Boesch anymore.

The Bears may not have Chris Errecart or Allen Craig stepping up to the plate or Garret Bussiere behind it.

But one of the most noticeable differences between last season and this season is a man who hasn't picked up a bat in two years.

It is the man who takes the ball to the hill every Friday.

The face of Cal baseball is no longer the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Brandon Morrow, who just recently earned his first win for the Seattle Mariners. This season, the face of the Bears program is a baby face-that of its Friday starter, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Tyson Ross.

The sophomore right-hander may not be able to generate runs, but he can keep the other team from scoring them. Against Oral Roberts, Ross nearly doubled his career high in strikeouts by fanning 16. And he still didn't get the win as the Bears lost 2-1.

But the former third baseman at Bishop O'Dowd High in Oakland realizes that even he has limitations.

'The thought has crossed my mind,' says Ross of picking up a stick again and giving himself some run support, 'but then I snap back to reality and realize I haven't even touched a fastball over 70 mph in two years, and I realize that that's not going to happen.'

The man with a teenage mug and the body of a redwood stands on the mound as one of the most imposing pitchers in collegiate baseball. He is fourth in the Pac-10 with a 2.17 ERA, fifth in opposing batting average (.217), fourth in innings pitched (78 2/3) and is one behind the conference leader in strikeouts, with 82.

'At this point, he's as good as I've seen at his age,' says Cal coach David Esquer. 'Tyson's kind of the heir apparent. Tyson has the chance to be special.'

And special he has been, being named to the preseason Wallace Award watch list for the top honor in collegiate baseball. Ross has been so dominant that he already has major league scouts buzzing with a full year left until he is eligible to be drafted.

'I'm not worried at all,' says Esquer about the departure of his wunderkind. 'I'm expecting for him to perform at a level that will allow him to be a very high draft choice. We expect that, and we knew that coming in and nothing would make us happier or prouder if he were to do that next year.'

Esquer believes that Ross has the potential to be just as good-if not better-than his 2006 ace, who was selected fifth overall in the June Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.

'He has given as many Friday quality starts as far back as I can remember as anyone at Cal,' says Esquer. 'I can't imagine any guy who has pitched day in and day out on Friday with as many quality starts as he has. (He's) right on par with Brandon. He's had every bit of quality starts on Friday as Brandon had last year.'

Ross sports a 91-92 mph fastball to go along with a devastating curve and a sharp slider that make tighter turns than Maseratis. The big fellow has big hands and long fingers, the DNA of the perfect breaking pitch. Last season, he used the curve to baffle batters, and this year, Ross has added more sweep to his slider and more precision to his fastball, much to the delight of coaches and fans.

'I've learned a lot about pitching in the past year,' says Ross. 'I'm constantly learning new things. I've only been throwing for a little while now, so my pitching talent has slightly increased, but it's really taken off this year.'

And when Ross is in the zone, one gets the impression that he can strike out just about anyone.

When Ross is relaxed, opposing hitters might as well be sitting on a branding iron, as his performance against the Golden Eagles showed. Perhaps most unnerving of all, Ross has developed an even more intimidating inside game this year.

'I think that's opened up endless possibilities for him to last longer in games and to battle out of jams in big spots,' says Esquer.

While Ross has reached his fastball to the occasional 94 mph, he is nothing if not soft-spoken. The loudest thing about his game is the pop of the mitt, yet he has turned into one of the leaders on a young Cal team that features only two seniors.

'I'm not a big talkative guy, so I just try to lead by example,' Ross says. 'I just keep a level head and go out there and show people that they can get their stuff done.'

But Ross didn't come out of high school as a full-time dominant pitcher. He had to be molded from an unrecruited hard-hitting infielder into the force that now graces the Evans Diamond mound.

His start at Cal was not easy. He struggled early last year until senior reliever Alex Trafton gave him some words of encouragement.

'Early on in the season after I had kind of a rough outing, he basically took me aside before the first home game and said, 'Tyson, don't worry. We know you're good, everyone knows you're good, so believe in yourself and go out there and take care of things. Pitch your game.' And then I had my first real good start of the year.'

Since then, Ross has taken his elevation to ace and role as the new poster boy for the Cal program in stride. He has pitched in more pressure-packed situations than this before he even came to Berkeley.

In 2005, Ross played with the U.S. Junior National Team and went 0-1 with a 2.61 ERA over three starts and struck out 12 over 10 1/3 innings against international competition.

'The beauty of it is that Tyson has always dealt with that pressure well,' says Esquer. 'He's pitched against national teams, against Cuba, really against a who's-who of baseball. I don't think that phases him, I really don't.'

And today, with that booming fastball, ankle-snapping slider and knee-buckling curve, the entire collegiate baseball world knows how good Ross is. He may be coming to a major league park near you before you know it.

(C) 2007 Daily Californian via CSTV U-WIRE

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