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Gabe Gross and Eric Crozier made their major league debuts in 2004 playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. "Making it" to the major leagues is the fulfillment of a dream, a dream held at one time by a large percentage of North American boys. I talked with both Gross and Crozier in Buffalo recently to reflect, with them, on the realization of their dream.

Gabe Gross and Eric Crozier made it to the major leagues by following different paths, Gross was an all round athlete, a two sport star in college, who appeared destined to make it from when he was in high school. Crozier was a 41st round selection out of a little known college. Gross always appeared to be on the fast track while Crozier flew under the radar of the prospect watchers, but they each made it to the major leagues in their own way.

Gabe Gross was a three sport star in high school and knew he wanted to play professional sports someday. As a football and baseball player at Auburn University Gross had two options to fulfill his boyhood dream until, in his sophomore year, he decided to focus all of his efforts on becoming a professional baseball player. Gross was a first round selection of the Blue Jays in 2001 and has always been rated as one of the Jays top prospects. Playing in the major leagues appeared to be only a matter of time, so when the call came last July it was the latest stage in the grand plan.

Eric Crozier followed a different path to the major leagues. Crozier became serious about baseball in high school when he had success playing at the high school level. Crozier went to Norfolk State University and obtained a degree in architecture, so when he was taken in the forty first round of the draft he could have elected to pass on a baseball career and start to work. Crozier never thought twice. "You don't think of the odds, once you are picked you think you are getting a chance to do something you wanted to do all your life. Being a low pick means you have to be more determined to prove that those who passed over you were wrong."

While Gross spent his rookie season in the Florida State League, hitting .300, Crozier started in the New York Penn League and hit .212. Gross moved quickly through the Jays system and was in AAA in his third season. Crozier put in five years before being promoted to AAA.

No matter in what round a player was drafted, or how many years he played in the minors, getting "the call" is a huge thrill. Gross was called up in mid season, after the trade of Josh Phelps, and he was not expecting a call. Marty Pevey, the Syracuse manager, yelled at Gross to get into his office. Gabe wondered what had he done wrong? When he got in there Pevey yelled at Gabe, again, to pack his bags, he was going to Yankee Stadium.

Crozier hoped, or expected, he would get the call and was on pins and needles waiting to hear. The 2004 minor league season was coming to an end, the newspapers were speculating that he would be called up, and if he was going to get a September call up he would hear any day. Pevey called Russ Adams, Ryan Glynn, Guillermo Quiroz and Crozier into his office to deliver the good news. "Now don't go crying on me," Pevey told the excited players. "You know I could have cried because it was a dream come true," said Crozier, "you read the papers and hear things but until you hear for sure you can't count on it."

For Gross and Crozier it was a dream come true, a payback for the years of practicing and refining their craft, so naturally their first instinct was to share the news with their families. As soon as Gross and Crozier left the stadium the cellphones went into full use. Crozier called as many people as he could before he crossed the border heading for Toronto, not knowing if he would have phone service in Canada. Gross called his wife to pick him up to go home and get his clothes. On his way home Gross called his parents and some friends.

Gross was called up to Yankee Stadium and arrived late in the game. Sean Douglass, who had played with Gross in Syracuse, was the only player in the change room. Douglass congratulated Gross on his call up, as did the Blue Jays when they filtered into the change room after the game. Having been a football player at Auburn, Gross was ready for Yankee Stadium. "It was the first atmosphere that equated to what I went through when I played football. The electricity in that stadium for a regular season game is not something you experience in the minor leagues, or really anywhere else, it is special."

Crozier described walking into a big league dressing room as like the first day you reported to minor league complex as a rookie. "You have a good year at AAA and you feel good about yourself but when you walk into a big league clubhouse you are down to being a rookie again, but it's definitely an experience to remember."

Crozier's first big league hit was off Erasmo Ramirez, a lefty in Texas. "It was a good hit, a double down the line, and when you see the ball land fair its a big relief." His first home run was off Doug Waechter of Tampa Bay. "I hit that at home and that was awesome." Crozier has both balls and says he will keep them forever.

Gross's first big league hit was not exactly as he had pictured it in his boyhood backyard games. Derek Jeter couldn't pick up a little pop-up and the ball fell in safely for a hit, but Gross remembers it well. "Orlando Hernandez was throwing a lot of junk, but I got a good pitch to hit, and I tried to hit it out of Yankee Stadium, got jammed, flipped it up in the air, but Jeter lost it in the sun, but I think it did get out of the infield." Gross also remembers his first home run. "I hit it off Esteban Loaiza, he gave me a cutter down and in but I got the bat head on it and I just hit a line drive down the line, any other stadium it might have been a double, but it just skimmed the top of the wall. I'll take it." I asked Gross what he remembers most about the season. "It's a combination of things. The first series in Yankee Stadium, and my first home run. We were up by 4 or 5 in that game but ended up winning by one, so knowing my home run helped us win was great. Hitting a grand slam against Oakland at home was awesome. The totality of the two months was very special".

Crozier remembers the learning as the most memorable part of being in the big leagues. "Carlos Delgado must have felt like I was a reporter, I followed him to the cage, I watched his approach to BP, I talked to him during the games about situations. He was a great guy to tolerate me and give me his expertise when he could."

Gross says the travel was the best perk of being a major leaguer. "In the minors you can get on a bus at 11:30 pm after a 7 pm game and have a five or six hour bus ride and get in a five in the morning. In the majors you are on a comfortable seat on a plane, watching a movie and getting there in an hour or two, unless it's a west coast trip. It's a lot better on your body and your psyche traveling like that."

Crozier noticed how the fans treat you. "People want a piece of you, whether its to sign a ball for a family or take a picture, they want to get close to you, it just a blessing." I asked Eric about the play that most people remember, the dive into the stands to catch a pop-up. "After that game we flew to Anaheim and I guess the play was on Sportscenter and the next day I had seventeen new messages, I guess everyone saw it. I only played one inning in that game and for that to happen it was awesome."

When Gabe went home for the winter the phone was busy "I definitely heard from some people who I hadn't heard from in a while, including some of the guys I played football with, not looking for anything, just calling to say I saw you on Sportscenter, congratulations."

Over the winter Eric was asked to speak at a lot of appearances, to come out to baseball camps. "Its like the kids listen to you more because they recognize they have seen you on television. It's as if they say we can take what he says as something to believe. Those are the opportunities that opened up for me."

I asked Eric what he learned that he would apply to 2005? "Consistency, major league baseball is all about consistency. Guys who make it, and guys who stay, are consistent in their approach both offensively and defensively. They don't let mental lapses happen, if they feel themselves start to slide a little bit they step back and make that adjustment."

I am sure all bauxites hope to see Gabe and Eric playing in Toronto soon.

Making It | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Monday, April 25 2005 @ 12:30 PM EDT (#113501) #
Nice piece, Gerry. I hope to see Gross and Crozier here again soon.
Wildrose - Monday, April 25 2005 @ 02:56 PM EDT (#113517) #
Great story. Even if Crozier never plays again in the majors (somewhat unlikely), we sometimes forget what a massive achievement it is to make the show.

I've seen a lot of good ball players come out of Southern Alberta, the highest level achieved by most seems to be Double A, to take that next step is extremely hard.
CeeBee - Monday, April 25 2005 @ 08:48 PM EDT (#113592) #
What are the odds for a drafted player? 1 in 50 or 100? Throw in the non drafted signees and its probably a lot worse. Every player that even gets 1 at bat or pitches to 1 batter has something to remember and cherish for the rest of their life. It most definitely is an acheivment.
Some call me Tim - Tuesday, April 26 2005 @ 02:52 AM EDT (#113615) #
Thanks for the well-written piece, Gerry. I also enjoyed reading your article on Vito and the Fishercats. It's nice to have this type of info available.
kpataky - Tuesday, April 26 2005 @ 12:25 PM EDT (#113653) #
I was at the game at Yankee Stadium in which Loiza pitched and Gross hit his first ML homer. It was a laser pulled into the corner. The ball hit the top of the right field wall and flipped over into the first row. I also remember being out to dinner a couple of months earlier with my wife, and I looked up at the bar TV and saw Gabe Gross misplay a ball in left - it was around 5 pm and he was leaving the shadows into the bright sunlight near the warning track in left. He couldn't see the ball at that point and it fell in for a double. I didn't know he had even been called up, and there he was. When he got his first ML hit in that game (the one Jeter couldn't catch) everyone at the bar was saying it was cheap and there they were taking the ball out of play.
Making It | 5 comments | Create New Account
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