Ben Gross could not have planned out his first year after graduating from Princeton University much better than the way it worked out.
Last June, Gross was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 34th round of the Major League Baseball Draft after a season at Princeton where he was a second team All-Ivy selection.
But rather than sign with the Astros, Gross opted to use his one remaining season of college eligibility to spend a year at Duke University as a graduate student enrolled in the Fuqua School of Business Master of Management Studies program.
At Duke, Gross appeared in 20 games, 13 as a starter, where he was 8-4 with a 4.40 earned run average and by the end of the season had established himself as the Blue Devils top starter. His eight victories were a team high.
His performance led to being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 10th round of the MLB draft earlier this month and last week he made his first start for the Elizabethon Twins, a team that is based out of Tennessee.
Gross worked four innings in a 13-6 win over Bluefield, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking two. Gross did not get a decision.
After missing most of his freshman and sophomore years at Princeton with injuries, Gross has steadily improved and that led to him looking to spend one more season playing college baseball.
“First and foremost, I just wanted to make it to post-season baseball for college and get to play in a Regional and potentially a Super Regional and potentially Omaha (for the College World Series),” said Gross, a Princeton High School graduate who grew up in Cranbury. “As long as I was contributing to the team that was going to be enough for me because that was something I didn’t get to experience at Princeton.
“We won the Ivy League championship my sophomore year when I was still rehabbing from surgery an coming back from injury. It worked out even better than I had hoped because I got to pitch Friday night in both the regional and the super regional and that’s an experience I am going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Duke advanced to the NCAA tournament and Gross was the winning pitcher as the Blue Devils opened the Morgantown Regional with a victory over Texas A&M. Duke advanced to the Super Regional at Vanderbilt, where Gross was the winning pitcher in an opening triumph over the Commodores. The Blue Devils lost the next two games to see their season come to an end.
Vanderbilt went on to reach the World Series finals and played Michigan for the title this week.
“It was kind of weird getting drafted and still having that series against Vanderbilt left because you could enjoy (being drafted) for a night, but then it was on to game-planning for the next start,” Gross said. “After the sourness of the loss in the Super Regional wore off I was really excited to come down to Fort Myers and get assigned to a team with the Twins.”
After pitching for a pair of high-level academic programs in college, Gross will now be able to focus solely on baseball.
“Just from an on the field standpoint, not to minimize or marginalize the talent level of college baseball, but the talent level here is a step up and it really changes your approach from one batter to the next and one pitch to the next,” Gross said. “As opposed to being able to miss bats in hitters counts, you really have to be pinpoint with your pitches and keep hitters off balance now. That’s an adjustment I have to make over the course of the season and into next year. It’s just a different game so far.”
Gross pitched in just two games his first two years at Princeton University before starting nine games as a junior and nine more as senior. He tossed just over 100 innings over the two years before pitching 75 innings this season for Duke. He has continued to improve each year as he gets regular work on the mound.
“The work from one year carries over to the next and I was able to work on a few more things,” he said of this past season. “It’s just continuous improvement from one day to the next and game to the next. I think (this past season) prepared me pretty well for professional baseball. The talent in the ACC was pretty good this year.”
Now Gross takes his game to another level as a professional looking to eventually pitch at the highest level.
“It’s been good,” he said of his first week in the Minor Leagues. “Professional baseball is definitely different than college ball. I just want to make continuous improvement and I’ll keep making adjustments. Hopefully I’ll just keep getting better.
“I want to just continuously keep learning and continue getting better and improve upon what I have right now. Going into next year’s spring training I am looking forward to it because that is the time a lot of this year’s draftees make the biggest jump.”
Overall, the past year could not have worked out much better.
“I got a Masters degree out of it which can’t be overlooked,” Gross said. “And at the end of the day I still get to pursue my dream of playing professional baseball one day.”