Baseball

He was making millions in majors. Why is Kentuckian pitching in local rec league?

Robbie Ross Jr. pitching in rec league, hoping for another shot at majors

Robbie Ross Jr., a former major league pitcher out of Lexington Christian Academy, is keeping in shape for another potential call-up by tossing a few innings in a local recreational league.
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Robbie Ross Jr., a former major league pitcher out of Lexington Christian Academy, is keeping in shape for another potential call-up by tossing a few innings in a local recreational league.

Robbie Ross Jr. intends to get back to the major leagues.

“I think that baseball’s not done for me, personally,” said the Lexington Christian product who has spent parts of six seasons with the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. “I think it’s just the beginning.”

In the meantime, he’s having some fun back home in Lexington with a new baby daughter and by pitching a few innings in the Lexington Adult Baseball League.

After being released June 9 by the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., Ross was looking for a way to stay in shape back home and got to talking with a friend who plays in the LABL.

“They were like ‘Hey sure, we’d love for you to come out and pitch a little bit. I just needed a little bit to kind of have guys step in and see what it was like facing batters again,” Ross said. “Right now, I’m just kind of waiting to see what happens with teams in the MLB.”

For the adult league players, going up against Ross “feels like you’re standing close to your dreams,” Diamond Dogs player Joel Katte said. Most pitchers in the league throw the ball across the plate, maybe, in the high 70s to low 80s (mph).

“You kind of get to touch greatness when you can hear and feel a 90 mile-an-hour fastball whiz by and the pop of the glove,” said Katte, who spent a year in the minors out of high school himself as a California Angels prospect in 1995 before becoming an educator. “His control and his movement, you can tell it’s major league caliber. Just to be that close to it is pretty special.”

The LABL, founded in 2013, has four teams playing an 18-game regular season with games usually held on Wednesday evenings at Lafayette High School and doubleheaders on Sundays at Memorial Sports Park in Nicholasville.

Ross, a 29-year-old left-hander, signed a pro contract out of LCA with the Texas Rangers as a second round MLB Draft pick in 2008.

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Lexington Christian pitcher Robbie Ross Jr. had 14 strikeouts as the Eagles defeated Lexington Catholic in 2008. Ross’s high school career earned him a second-round selection in the 2008 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. Mark Cornelison Herald-Leader file photo

He built a successful MLB career over six seasons with the Rangers and the Red Sox, mostly as a middle reliever, compiling a 16-12 record with 3.92 ERA and six saves. He was 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 65 innings as a rookie in 2012 and followed that up with a 4-2 record and a 3.03 ERA the next season.

He was 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA with the Red Sox in 2016, but injuries derailed his 2017 season and back surgery that summer ended it.

Ross, who has earned nearly $5.7 million in his career according to Spotrac.com, signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox this spring but was released days after this year’s MLB Draft when teams have to make way for a fresh influx of young players. Ross pitched in spring training with the White Sox and began the season with the Charlotte Knights and attempted to work through issues with his control around the plate.

“I was struggling early on and then, all of a sudden, I started to figure it back out again and at that point, they had already decided what they were going to do,” Ross said. “But they let me figure it out when I was there.”

He recorded four strikeouts in two innings on May 29, and pitched two scoreless innings, albeit with two hits and a walk on June 6, before his release.

While he’d prefer to be working, Ross sees the break as a huge positive coming as he and his wife, who is also an LCA grad, recently adopted a baby girl, Gypsy. They often document some of their time together on their YouTube and Instragram accounts.”

“Honestly, I’m spending time with her that I would never get back,” he said. “Having a daughter and being with my wife has been the best blessing ever. Obviously, I’d love to be playing baseball, but this is 10 times better being able to spend time with my family.”

The couple also keeps busy with their charity, Mission 108, which serves the poor and combats human trafficking in India, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

“I really started Mission 108 just out of an expression of my heart and a need that I saw in India,” Brittany Ross said. She had been doing just some random mission trips until a safe house she helped looked to be closing down. Brittany Ross filed all the appropriate paperwork with the IRS to establish her charity and “we’ve just been going ever since.”

That aside, Brittany believes her husband has another good 10 years in him for baseball.

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Brittany Ross cheered on her husband and high school sweetheart, Robbie Ross Jr., as he pitched in a game for the Lexington Adult Baseball League’s Diamond Dogs at Lafayette High School in Lexington. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

“It’s a scary thing, obviously not having a job and having a little one, but we always try to look at life like the glass is half full,” Brittany Ross said. “I really think he’ll be back in baseball. My fingers are crossed.”

Left-handers remain a coveted commodity in the majors, and Ross said it’s just a matter of getting an opportunity. A high school friend, Hunter Wills, documented all of Ross’s throws on video Wednesday night to send to his agent.

“I don’t know if I have to prove anything,” Ross said. “It’s just if a team really wants a lefty that can go anywhere from 89 to 93 (mph). I can get lefties and righties out. I think it’s just a thing trying to figure out who wants to make that leap and try and give me a chance.”

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