Bringing the Heat
Former Carroll Pitcher Makes the Pros - By Kevin Adler
As a young boy growing up playing baseball, your dream is to make the high school team. If you are lucky enough to accomplish that, the next goal is go to college and play for a big program.
Finally, if you are in the tiny percentage of athletes that make it to the college level, you dream to become a player in the big leagues. Only a small percentage of college baseball players reach their dream of playing in the big leagues.
Texas A&M graduate and former Carroll Dragon Ross Stripling is living the life of that small percentage, and it was not your typical journey. The career trek now includes playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization after being selected in the fifth round of the June draft.
In high school, Stripling played both baseball and basketball for the Dragons. He worked his way up through the ranks, playing on the freshman team for one year and junior varsity for the next two years. Throughout those three years, Stripling was the starting shortstop for his teams, and looked forward to being the shortstop on varsity his senior year. Little did he know, his junior year was the last time he would play infield.
During his senior year in basketball practice for Carroll, Stripling suffered a broken leg. He missed the basketball season and focused on baseball from that point forward. In offseason baseball workouts, Stripling finally got his cast off, but still waited for clearance to play.
“Once I broke my leg, I was in a brace for a while,” Stripling said. “During practices, I would just walk over to the bullpen and start throwing off the mound for fun. It was nothing serious at the time, but that is how my pitching career began.”
Stripling worked tirelessly with Carroll head coach Larry Hughes and former assistant Jeremy Trojacek to get ready for the upcoming season in his new role. As fate would have it, this was the best possible move for Stripling and helped change the Dragons’ fortunes. In his senior season for the Dragons, the right-hander went an amazing 14-0 and won the Class 5A state semifinal performance.
“He was dominant as a pitcher his senior year,” Carroll baseball coach Larry Hughes said. “He was just so confident pitching.”
Said Stripling, “My favorite memory was pitching the state semifinal vs. Houston Bellaire, which was a high school powerhouse. I was 13-0 going in and wanted to give my team a chance to win. There were a lot of seniors on that team, guys I have played with since T-ball and the team was well meshed. I just wanted to win it for them.”
Stripling lifted the Dragons to the Class 5A championship game before falling to Plano West.
When it came time to pick a university, Stripling was recruited by Dallas Baptist and Rice to play baseball. But he opted to go to a school where he wasn’t even being recruited to play baseball -- Texas A&M. “I am a third-generation Aggie,” Stripling said. “My grandpa was a yell leader, and I put Texas A&M ahead of baseball.”
When he reached Texas A&M for the first time as a student for orientation, Stripling and his father, Hayes, decided to visit the baseball offices to see if they could talk to the coaches about walking on.
“My dad and I went to the field during orientation, saw [Texas A&M baseball] Coach [Rob] Childress, introduced myself and asked if I could walk on,” Stripling said. “He said there was a pretty full roster, but that I could join the team in the fall and try to earn a spot for the spring.”
When the fall of 2009 rolled around, Stripling put on the Aggie colors and earned his way onto the team, and held a pivotal role in the bullpen. In 13 appearances, Stripling compiled a 1-0 record with a 2.51 earned-run average. In 2010, Stripling was moved into the weekend starting rotation. He led the Aggies with 17 starts and tossed 88 innings and finished with a 6-5 record, 4.50 ERA and averaged one strikeout per inning pitched. In both 2009 and 2010, the Aggies reached the NCAA Regionals, but were eliminated.
The 2011 season would not only be a season to remember for Stripling, but one that went down in the history books for Aggie baseball. Behind Stripling in the weekend rotation, the Aggies finished with a record of 47-22 and reached the College World Series for only the fifth time in school history. Stripling led the nation in wins with 14, and his final season stats were dazzling for the former walk-on. He went 14-2 with a 2.29 ERA and had 113 strikeouts. The accolades followed. He was first-team American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-American, Capitol One Academic All-American, Academic All Big 12, and a spot on the ABCA/Rawlings All-Midwest Region Team. He was also named Big 12 player of the week three different times. In the College Station Regional, Stripling earned a starting victory and save which clinched the regional championship against Arizona. It landed A&M a berth in the Tallahassee Super Regional to face No. 6-ranked Florida State.
Stripling started the first game in the best-of-three series and led the Aggies to a 6-2 victory. A&M lost the second game but won Game 3 and clinched a berth to the College World Series in Omaha.
When the Aggies reached Omaha, Stripling was told that he was going to pitch the Aggies first game against the defending National Champions South Carolina.
“I knew I would start since [Michael] Wacha started the last game in the Super Regional,” Striping said. “It was not intimidating because of the fans -- it was because of the atmosphere, tailgates outside, friends and family there. They do it big.”
Stripling accepted the challenge and dazzled against South Carolina. He tossed eight innings against the heavy-hitting Gamecocks and allowed two earned runs, but finished with a no-decision. South Carolina won the game on a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. The Aggies lost their second game in Omaha to California and were eliminated. But the experience was another great memory for Stripling.
“In the opening ceremony, you walk out through fireworks and flames. We sign autographs and there are thousands of people walking around,” Stripling said. “We got to watch Texas/Florida play that Friday since we did not have a game until Saturday and we got a feel for the atmosphere.”
Stripling was drafted in the ninth round by the Colorado Rockies after his junior year, but opted to get his degree and play his senior season at A&M.
“I wanted my degree and have something to rely on if baseball didn’t work out,” Stripling said. “We had an experienced team coming back. I couldn’t turn it down. It was a no-brainer for me.”
In his senior, the expectations were high for the Aggie star and he delivered. Stripling went 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA and led the Aggies with 120 strikeouts and was named National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America. Opponents hit just .229 against Striping. He also led the team in innings pitched with 125 2/3. On his graduation day, Stripling started for the Aggies at home against San Diego State. Stripling made history once again tossing the 11th no-hitter in Aggie history.
“It was so stressful because every pitch I was thinking about hitting my spot so I don’t mess it up for the fans, my teammates and coaches,” Stripling said. “Everyone was avoiding me so that made it harder. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I wish I could’ve enjoyed it while it was happening. Time goes by so slow and all you can do is sit and think.”
After the game, his phone lit up with texts and tweets congratulating him, but two texts really stood out to him.
“Coach Hughes and Coach Trojacek have followed me through my career and wanted to congratulate me and even four years later, it meant a lot to me, he said.”
Three days after the June draft, Stripling’s future was sealed. He signed with the Dodgers following his fifth round selection. During the draft, Stripling said, “I had heard, seniors could get calls in the 2nd/3rd round. I was watching it on TV and just sitting there, waiting for the call. I did that for the first 2/3 rounds. I went to do laundry to kill time trying to keep busy. When I heard it, we (my Mom, Dad, brother and high school friends) just stopped and jumped around.”
The next step for Stripling is working his way to the major leagues. He left in mid-June to play for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, where he throws on a strict pitch count and inning limit in order to preserve his arm for the following season.
The Ogden Raptors, formely affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers until 2002, have produced five notable Major League Baseball players, four of which have been All-Stars during their career. Blake DeWitt, infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Corey Hart, All Star outfielder for the Brewers, Prince Fielder, Home RunDerby Champion and All Star for the Tigers, Mike Adams, relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers, and former Cy Yound award winner Ben Sheets, pitcher for the Atlanta Braves.
“Ross was always so intelligent and he was confident in his ability with just one successful performance after another,” Hughes said. “It just kept snowballing. …”
All the way to becoming a professional baseball player.