Feb. 22, 2012
AUBURN--Gabe Gross could talk about his glory days of professional baseball all day long. He could talk about getting a hit in his first Major League at-bat at Yankee Stadium, his first homerun two days later in baseball's grandest cathedral, or even playing in the World Series during his stint with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Only that's not why the former All-American baseball player came back to Auburn and agreed to help Coach John Pawlowski.
He came back to finish his degree--and help Auburn's young players chase their own diamond dreams.
"I don't shy away from talking about my career if they ask about it, but I try not to be too much into talking about the glory days," Gross said. "I'm there to help those guys get their own glory days. I try to put the focus on them."
Gross is back at Auburn as a student assistant on Pawlowski's staff after playing professionally for 10 years, including seven in the major leagues. He feels right at home in Auburn, where he and his wife, Kelly, made their home during the offseason throughout his career.
"It's been really nice to be here on a full-time basis and also nice to be a part of the baseball program," Gross said. "I'm really enjoying it."
And while Gross isn't sure what he will do after he completes his degree in supply chain management, coaching for a living isn't out of the question. He currently works with the outfielders and helps assistant coach Link Jarrett with hitting.
"One of the reasons that I wanted to come help Coach Pawlowski was to really get an understanding of the coaching field," Gross said. "That's a possibility, but I'm still evaluating where I want to go."
Gross said he takes bits and pieces from the many great coaches he played for, including his father, Lee Gross, former Auburn skippers Hal Baird and Steve Renfroe and Tampa Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
"Even as a player I would take note of different things coaches would do," Gross said. "I've had some great coaches. I feel like I saw the things that they did were positive and maybe the things they did that were negative and just kind of molded into what I'm doing."
Teaching the many subtleties of game he loves to players who want to learn has been a joy.
"I like that the players are still hungry to learn," Gross said. "Most of the guys know that they obviously have talent because they wouldn't be here if they didn't, but there is still a lot about the game of baseball they don't know. Especially coming off the past 10 years really of playing professional baseball, I got to see the game played right. Being able to help those guys understand the game a little better has been really fun to me."
If he misses playing the game of baseball, it doesn't show. Gross is happy to be home with his wife and children, Allie, 2, and Jake, 1. The chance to be around his family more is one reason Gross decided to retire instead of trying to battle his way back to the big leagues.
"I weighed the time spent away from my family both immediate and extended over the past 10 years and what it was going to mean to both my children and my wife for me to try to keep bouncing around AAA and hoping to get called back up," Gross said. "I also knew at some point whether it was this year or five years down the road, baseball was going to come to an end and I was going to have to move on." He moved on with no regrets.
"I had a great time," Gross said. "I played parts of seven different Major League seasons, and it was just time for me. I got to play on some winning ball clubs, be in some pennant chases and went to the World Series and had a wonderful experience. But I was ready."
Now he is one step closer to having something that can never be taken away--a degree from Auburn University. Gross is on schedule to graduate this summer.
"I knew the day I left that I was going to get my degree at some point," Gross said. "I couldn't imagine having poured myself into Auburn as much as I had throughout my whole life and not ever having a degree from Auburn University on my wall. The day I decided to leave (professional baseball) it was on my mind."