Even as a 19-year-old pitching phenom fresh out of high school, Robbie Ross knew he never wanted to be THAT guy.
So when the Texas Rangers dropped a little more than $1.5 million in his lap last August, he immediately sought assistance in handling both his money and his manners.
A financial advisor was the logical choice to deal with the boatload of cash that came from being a second-round pick in Major League Baseball’s 2008 First-Year Player Draft. But when it came to making sure he kept his head straight, Ross deferred to a much higher authority.
“I don’t ever want to be that guy where people think, ‘Oh, man. He’s the one who got all that money, so he’s probably going to be a punk to the rest of us,’ ” said Ross, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound left-hander, who is scheduled to make his professional baseball debut as the Spokane Indians’ starting pitcher in tonight’s season-opener against the Yakima Bears at Avista Stadium.
“I’m a big-time Christian, so it was the type of thing where I started asking God to help me make the right decisions as soon as I heard about all the money being offered. And now that I have it, I just pray God will keep me humble.”
It would seem that approach is working quite well for the former prep standout at Lexington (Ken.) Christian Academy, who impressed the Rangers and several other major league teams during his senior year by posting a 5-1 record that included a 1.07 earned-run average and 73 strikeouts in just 45 innings.
Indians catcher Zach Zaneski roomed with Ross at the Rangers’ spring training camp in Surprise, Ariz., this spring and saw nothing that would suggest a budding ego problem.
“He’s a pretty humble kid who does a good job of handling things, considering all the money he got for signing,” Zaneski said. “He doesn’t get outside of himself very often or get too big a head. He’s a good kid, as far as I can tell from when I’ve been around him.”
That’s exactly the image Ross wants to portray as he attempts to establish himself at the short-season Class A level before taking the next step in his baseball career.
“The thing is, I’m not different than any of the guys on this team,” he said. “I might have gotten more money than most of them, but we’re all on the same playing level now. Money was money during the draft, but now we’re all playing to get where we want to go next.”
When Ross climbs the mound for tonight’s Northwest League matchup against the Bears, he will take along a good fastball that tops out in the low 90s, a circle change that improved immensely during his extended stay at spring training and a slider that, by his own admission, still needs some work.
“He throws great,” said Zaneski, who caught Ross for one intrasquad game this spring. “There’s a reason he signed for 1.5 million. Hopefully, he’ll do very well here and help the team out.”
Indians manager Tim Hulett was also at the Rangers’ training camp this spring, but saw Ross throw only once.
“So I don’t know a lot about him,” Hulett said. “But I do get reports, and all of the reports I’ve gotten on him have been good – as they should be. He got drafted high for a reason.”
Since collecting his big signing bonus, Ross has treated himself to one pricey indulgence – the new Lincoln Mark LT luxury pickup he drove to Spokane.
“I really needed a truck,” said Ross, who is the second oldest of the six children in his family. “And then I bought my brothers and sisters some things that my parents might not have been able to get for them.”
Ross’ parents, grandparents and two of his three sisters are among more than a dozen family members and friends who made the trip from Lexington to be on hand for tonight’s game. Brittany Lyons, Ross’ high school sweetheart and girlfriend for the past 31/2 years, is also in town – probably longer than she wants to be.
“She made plans to be out here until the 25th (of June),” Ross said of Lyons, who was accompanied to the Pacific Northwest by her mother. “But we leave town on the 22nd for a road trip (to Everett), and I didn’t tell her that. So she’s all mad at me now.”
Unless their travel itineraries change, Lyons and her mother will be in Kentucky by the time Ross and his teammates return for the opener of another three-game home stand against the Tri-City Dust Devils on June 28.
But Ross hopes he can make some amends by treating all of those who made the long trek west to watch his professional debut to a solid pitching performance tonight.
“It’s awesome to have all those family members and great people I’ve stayed in touch with from back home out here to watch,” Ross said.