AUBURN - Gabe Gross has played with and batted against baseball's best. As Auburn's season-opener draws closer, he spends his days working to teach Tiger baseball players what he earned.
Gabe Gross had a career batting average of .375 at Auburn
Gross, a former Auburn All-American, spent seven seasons in the major leagues. Now he runs the offense and coaches Auburn hitters. And his impact has been substantial.
"I think he's had the biggest impact I've ever had for myself," first baseman Garrett Cooper said. "Playing in the big leagues for seven years, he's really helped our offense. He's given us so much I've never even known. It's a great thing for us as college baseball players. He's refined the little things that I didn't even know. It's nice."
Gross hit .430 in 2000 and had a career .375 batting average. The Toronto Blue Jays chose him in the first round of the 2002 major league draft. After three seasons in the minors, he began a major league career that took him to Toronto, Milwaukee, Tampa an Oakland before he retired in the spring of 2011. He spent last season as an Auburn student assistant as he finished work on his degree.
All-Southeastern Conference centerfielder Ryan Tella says, Gross' experience gives him unquestioned credibility with Auburn players.
"You respect him for it," Tella said. "You respect everything he says. If you don't agree with it, he's still right because he knows way more than we do. It's been huge. I couldn't even explain all the things he's taught us. He's helped us all out a lot."
Gross, who became Auburn's starting quarterback as a freshman in 1998, left the football team three games into his sophomore season to concentrate on baseball and became an all-time great, starred at Auburn from 1999-2001.
For Gross, passing on the lessons he's learned from Hal Baird and Steve Renfroe at Auburn and in the major leagues to another generation of Auburn is a labor of love.
"I'm just trying to put into our players so many of the things I learned in pro ball," Gross said. "I had a great foundation coming through this program with Coach Baird and Coach Renfroe, but you pick up so many things playing the game professionally. It's not just things you learn, but things you see other guys doing.
"I'm trying to teach these guys the way I know how to play baseball, about hitting and about the mental side of hitting and facing a pitcher and the chess game that is."
Gross inherits an experienced lineup. Tella hit .360 last season. Left fielder Cullen Wacker hit .350, Cooper hit .324 and shortstop Dan Glevenyak hit .319. Catcher Blake Austin hit .296. They are embracing a new way, one that demands discipline and two-strike hitting.
"I think they've really bought into it," Gross said. "I think the biggest enforcer of that is when they do something and they see the benefit of doing it that way. It is going to be a little bit of a process, but we are headed in that direction.
"From where we started in the fall, we have come a long way. It's been interesting to me to see the things we learned after fall and getting used to executing those things with a pitcher out on the mound."
Auburn opens its season on Feb. 14 against Maine in the first game of a four-game series at Plainsman Park.
For a video interview with Gross, follow the link below.