As far as Wisconsin Timber Rattlers pitcher Austin Ross
is concerned, a roiling sea of purple and gold in steamy Baton Rouge is perfect preparation for the pressure cooker of pro baseball.
Ross, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander, endured the intensity of SEC baseball and is thriving for the Timber Rattlers. The 22-year-old eighth-round Draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 is a sizzling 5-1 with a 1.64 ERA. Midwest League opponents are only hitting .176 against Ross.
Helping LSU win the College World Series in 2009 and standing up to the heat of Tiger Nation helped forge Ross' precious mettle on the mound.
"It's a huge help in pro ball to have played at LSU," Ross said. "There's no place like it. There's a lot of pressure to perform. You play in front of 10,000 fans every night. There's tons of press coverage. You're under the microscope."
"If you're throwing bad and the team is not doing well, everybody calling for your head," said Ross, a native of Shreveport. "If you're throwing well, you're on the front page of the paper and everybody loves you. You learn to get a thick skin pretty quick. LSU prepares you for a lot of things in baseball. With LSU fans, it's College World Series or bust. They expect the best from you."
Another tremendous asset for Ross is growing up as a pitcher under the tutelage of former San Francisco Giants pitcher Scott Garrelts, who also makes Shreveport home. Ross' father golfed with Garrelts one day and asked the former big leaguer if he would give his then-10-year old son a few tips. Garrelts went beyond a few tips. He mentored Ross through high school, and still stays in touch.
"Even in college, we'd talk every few weeks," Ross said. "He'd watch games at LSU on the internet. He knows my tendencies and knows if I'm getting out of sync. Now, we talk about the experience, because he's been through this. In the offseason, I threw three or four bullpens with him watching. He knows me better than anybody. It's a huge advantage. I'm thankful to have somebody like him help me."
Transitioning from college to pro ball has been exceptional for Ross.
"Pitching every fifth day has helped," Ross said. "In the college game, you had metal bats, hot weather, small parks. ... I gave up a lot of hits. The entire pro ball thing has helped me. I'm real confident right now."
"I'm throwing a lot more changeups," Ross said. "Teams know that I have it and have to respect it. I'm not just a fastball-slider guy."
For Pete's sake: Former Peoria Chiefs owner Pete Vonachen was honored by the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. The 85-year-old Vonachen, who was a close friend of legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Carey not only was mobbed by a host of Cubs and Cardinals on the field wishing him well -- Peoria has hosted Minor League teams from both organizations, he received calls from Joe Girardi and Brad Mills, both of whom wore Chiefs' colors. He also received a call from Jimmy Piersall.
An inside job: Devin Lohman's inside-the-park homer May 14 highlighted a wild six-run inning by Dayton on its way to a 7-2 victory against Fort Wayne. The inning featured a lost fly that turned into a double, a ball that a collision knocked loose to turn into a triple and the inside-the-park homer that veered away from the pursuing outfielder, who got a late break on the ball.
Snake-bitten: Wisconsin's bats were silenced in back-to-back games this week. In two games, the Timber Rattlers were outscored, 18-1, and struck out 28 times. Starting pitcher Manuel Soliman struck out 11 Wisconsin batters in a 7-0 victory for Beloit on May 17, and Taijuan Walker struck out 11 in an 11-1 victory by Clinton on May 15.