While most incoming freshmen are now worrying about finding classes and a locker, one Grantsville freshman is just days away from a North Carolina USA Baseball National Team tryout where coaches could pick him for the 16, 17U 2018 team’s development program.
Justin Ross, 15, received word mid-July that he was one of 18 teens to make the Mountain West baseball team. While he is just as anxious as the next freshman to take to the halls of Grantsville High School, he is putting first things first with his sights on the national trials.
The 2017 USA Baseball National Team Identification Series in Cary, North Carolina, runs from Aug. 17-20, but Ross’s family will be leaving a week early. Their planned family vacation to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone has been rerouted to the east coast.
After playing well at the state level, Justin received an email three weeks later that invited him to compete in Denver for the Mountain West baseball team. Though Justin and his parents know he did well at the state level, they said they still don’t know how he compared with the other players in the state or if any other players went.
“I did good,” Justin said of the first stage en route to the national finals.
“But, you don’t know. It’s basically on your stats,” Justin’s father, Mike Ross, stated. At the state qualifier, Justin performed in the following qualifying competitions: 60-yard dash, 40-yard dash, catching, pop time, infield and outfield.
“When you pop time, you’re the catcher and when it hits your glove, they start the clock and then you throw it down to second base. When it hits second base, the clock stops,” Justin said.
His time for the pop time competition was 2.1-2.2 seconds.
At Denver, Justin was competing against teens from Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, northern Nevada and Wyoming.
But there was a problem with the tryouts for Justin: his age group was scheduled to report to Denver on the days his grandparents had planned a Disneyland trip with him over a year ago. So, his mother Lisa Ross called up officials with the Denver tryouts and explained the situation. The officials said they would allow him to come the week before to play with the 16 and 17U age groups.
At first, Lisa Ross said her son was worried about playing with the older group. As his parents talked it over with him, they emphasized that every year Justin had played up, she said. So, he decided to go for the early tryout.
“He actually kept up well with that age group,” she said.
“When he went there, he just brang his game and he did well. He did really well,” Mike Ross said.
Justin added, “I hold my own.”
When he arrived, he said he was pretty nervous, but then recalled that he said to himself, “Oh, this is not bad and then I just started playing and said ‘just do what you do best.’”
When asked what he does best, he referred his batting overall and his batting and catching in Denver.
“My batting’s pretty good. My average in the past three years is probably .580-.600. And then I threw down four kids catching and then I hit a triple — a 380 to the fence and the kid dropped it and I got a triple on that,” he said.
Going in to the Denver trials, Justin felt like he had a target on his head.
He said, “A lot of coaches were saying ‘Hey, you’re the 15-year-old.’
“And after the three games, five coaches came up to me and said ‘You really did a good job.’”
“It was pretty rewarding,” his father added, “I couldn’t believe how many people talked to him after the game. I mean every one of the coaches said, ‘We are really impressed with how you handle yourself.’ So, it was pretty cool.”
The freshman phenom began T-ball at age 5, but Mike Ross said it was when he was 11 or 12 that he started firing on all cylinders.
“All of a sudden, he had the natural ability of being a good baseball player,” he said. “It developed. He’s kind of like a duck to water. You put him out there and he started swimming.”
To move to the next level, his parents signed him up for a competition team in Salt Lake City, called the York Sox. In 2015, it was the Park City team Skull Candy. At the Triple Crown World Series, a Utah competition league tournament, Justin placed fourth in the home run derby and his team placed second in the series.
On the last two comp teams in as many years, he hit four and five home runs, respectively.
For the last two years, he has been mentored by MLB standout Mike Morgan, now of Salt Lake City, who is a former pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks (where he took the World Series) and a first-round draft pick of the Oakland A’s right out of high school. Morgan, who also was mentored in his teens by an MLB player, took him on to train like the son he never had, Lisa Ross said.
Justin received the news that he made it to North Carolina through an email at the Salt Lake City airport when returned from Disneyland. The email read, “On behalf of Team Mountain West and USA Baseball, it is our pleasure to invite you to the 2017 USA Baseball National Team Identification Series in Cary, N.C. You are one of the very few elite players honored for this chosen opportunity. Your invitation automatically qualifies you as a candidate for the USA Baseball National Team.”
Justin will be playing actual games with his Mountain West team and will be put through individual skills tests, evaluations by national staff and will interact with national team members. If he performs well, he may be named to one of the official national teams.
The Ross family is excited for the experience. The family will fly to Virginia in two days and then drive down the coast to North Carolina before Justin begins the national trials series, Lisa Ross said. As parents, they try to keep Justin focused on having a good time through the process. With all of the time that his baseball takes, the family tries to make it fun and enjoyable, she added.
And what are Justin’s goals? To be like his coach, he said, and be drafted right out of high school into the MLB, to make the USA baseball team and play in the Olympics and to “win a World Series, like Mike Morgan,” he said.
“It’s amazing to make it even this far,” Lisa Ross said, “and it is an experience.”