April 28, 2017

PHS Alum Gross Overcomes Injury Woes, Turning Into Mound Star for PU Baseball

RETURN TO FORM: Ben Gross delivers a pitch this spring for the Princeton University baseball team. Former Princeton High standout Gross has overcome shoulder problems to emerge as a front line starter in his junior campaign with the Tigers. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

In the spring of 2013, Ben Gross enjoyed a dominant season on the mound for the Princeton High baseball team, with 53 strikeouts in 51 innings and a sparkling 2.47 ERA.

Plagued by the recurrence of a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for much of his first two seasons at PHS, Gross only pitched six innings as a senior.

Heading across town to Princeton University and joining its baseball program which had been attracted by the potential he displayed in that 2013 season, Gross was initially derailed by his ongoing injury woes.

“I could do absolutely nothing when I came in,” said Gross.

“This was after my first surgery. I started up with my normal routine, trying to rehab and get ready for the season and it flared up again. I got another surgery right when the season started so I just kind of sat back and watched. That was just as hard as it was my freshman and sophomore years of high school and my senior year.”

Last spring, Gross was able to take the mound, making two appearances and logging three innings, striking out two and giving up no runs.

“My arm felt great last year which was a big change for me,” said the 6’2, 200-pound Gross.

“Three innings isn’t a whole lot but just to get out there was awesome because it had been two and a half years since I had set foot on a baseball field.”

Encouraged by his taste of college action, Gross put his nose to the grindstone over the offseason.

“This summer, I trained really hard to get back to my former self before the surgeries,” said Gross. “It was a mix of everything: honestly working on my mechanics, my strength, all of that.”

That work has paid dividends this spring as Gross regained his form, emerging as a key starter for the Tigers, going 3-2 with a 1.46 ERA in his first six starts. While Gross has picked up two straight losses in the last two weekends as the Tigers went 0-8 and are now 9-26-1 overall and 5-11 Ivy League, he still leads team in wins (3) and strikeouts (39).

Coming into the 2017 campaign, Gross had modest expectations. “I just wanted to pitch a greater amount of innings, I didn’t really care about the success,” said Gross, who has piled up 43 and one-third innings this spring.

“Really I just wanted to get out there and prove to myself that I could go a full season without getting hurt.”

Experiencing success in his first two outings this spring got Gross going in the right direction. On March 4, Gross went five innings with eight strikeouts, two walks, and no runs in a loss to Duke and he followed that up by going six innings against UNC-Greensboro a week later, earning his first college win in the process as he struck out six and surrendered two runs on six hits.

“It was awesome, that was a cool experience to get to play at the Durham Bulls athletic complex,” said Gross, recalling the Duke game.

“Anyone can do it once, how about twice; that is what my dad always says to me. It was cool to go out there and get repeated success.”

In assessing his season, Gross attributes his success to harnessing his fastball.

“I tend to rely on my fastball a little too much but I trust the velocity, I trust my command of it,” said Gross. “I let the other team get themselves out, I don’t try to overpower anyone.”

Getting out there for the Tigers has been a great experience for Gross.

“It is awesome to finally get out on the field,” said Gross. “In my freshman year, I had to sit back and watch as the team struggled. Last year I had to sit back and watch as we won an Ivy League championship, which was fun but I wished I was contributing to the team. This year, we were hoping to make a run at another Ivy League championship and I am at the forefront of that, which is a really cool feeling.”

Princeton pitching coach Mike Russo, a former Hun School standout, wasn’t feeling overly confident about Gross’s prospects heading into the season.

“We really hadn’t gotten much out of him, I know he was working towards pitching and stuff like that,” said Russo.

“I had heard that he had a good arm and that he was dominant in high school.”

Seeing Gross come through against Duke gave Russo confidence that the injury-plagued righty could be dominant at the college level.

“At Duke, we knew that we were going to start him but we were a little unsure about him throwing multiple innings and how he was gong to respond to it,” said Russo.

“Pitching in a game against somebody else you just never know what guys are going to do. You can simulate it as much as you want. When you throw him against guys and you turn the lights on and you play against another team, you really see what guys are made of. He was awesome.”

Building on that performance, Gross has displayed some awesome stuff this spring.

“He was pitching at 88-91 mph with command of three different pitches,” said Russo.

“He was throwing two different breaking balls, a curve ball and a slider and his command was outstanding. He was in the bottom of the zone. He has that really slow, methodical delivery and then the ball gets on you pretty quick.”

The emergence of Gross into a top starter for the Tigers has Russo excited about the hurler’s future.

“He really turned it on this year and the guys look up to him,” said Russo.

“When he pitches in the game, there is a comfort level. with our team behind him. The guys really love playing when he is throwing. He has earned it every step of the way and the guys have seen his work ethic all year. We are really pleased with how he is throwing and we are definitely looking forward to his senior campaign.”

Buoyed by his comeback campaign, Gross is looking forward to next season and beyond.

“I want to just stay healthy and keep progressing,” said Gross.

“Hopefully if everything goes right, I can try to play at the next level. That would be the ultimate goal.”