Jake Gross acknowledges he was a little more pumped up than normal to play this past Friday night as his Auburn Orange all-stars baseball team competed in its Ozone State Tournament opener at Dothan’s G. Marvin Lewis Youth Sports Complex’s baseball fields.
For the 12-year-old baseball all-star, it was his first opportunity to play at a facility that his father, former Northview High, Auburn University and Major League Baseball standout Gabe Gross played at while growing up in Dothan.
“It’s just really special because he told me walking in that he ripped some kids hearts out and he had his ripped out a couple of times, so playing on the same field is pretty special,” Jake Gross said
“I was a little amped up,” added Jake.
Jake, a left-handed hitter like his dad, went 1-for-4 with three walks, a.571 on-base percentage and three runs scored over three tournament games as Auburn Orange went 1-2 at the tournament. He also pitched 3 1/3 innings in the opener, striking out two and walking two, while giving up five hits and five earned runs.
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The games were also special for his dad, Gabe, an assistant coach for Auburn Orange, though he couldn’t attend Saturday’s game because of recruiting duties in his job as Auburn University’s hitting coach.
“My father coached me in everything growing up and I think about how special that was and to play on those fields with my dad coaching and now to bring my son here back to these same fields and to coach him was special,” said Gabe Gross, who was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and baseball) at Northview High School (1995-98).
Though he has visited Dothan on numerous occasions to see his grandparents and Gabe’s parents, Lee and Betty Gross, it was the first time for Jake to see some of the facilities his dad played on while growing up.
He had seen his dad’s high school campus on several previous visits with the school located on the drive into Dothan from Auburn. Northview has since consolidated with Dothan High to form a new Dothan High.
The family, which also includes 14-year daughter Allie, who is a big into dance, and mother/wife Kelly, jokes that Gabe often asks for a “moment of silence” as they drive by the school since it is no longer called Northview. Ironically, Gabe Gross’ elementary school building in downtown (Highlands) and middle school (Honeysuckle) also no longer exists as Highlands moved out to Brannon Stand Road and Honeysuckle is now home to the Dothan City Schools offices.
While at the tournament, Jake also got a first-hand look at some of other places his father played and competed that are near the G. Marvin Lewis facility. Just outside the gate to the right is the Northcutt baseball field where Gabe’s high school baseball team, Northview, played all its home games back then. Next to the baseball field is the Northcutt football field where his dad had one of his memorable occasions.
“He told me he played his first football game – a middle school game – over there,” Jake said, motioning toward Northcutt Field. “He told me some other stories about him playing around here.
“It is really cool to come back and see everything that he did and where he played. We shared some stories together.”
Gabe Gross also played basketball as a youth at the nearby Westgate Recreation Center, located three-fourths of a mile down Recreation Drive from where Jake was playing his baseball games this weekend. Jake, though, had previously played at the Rec Center with his dad during a visit late last year.
The Friday tournament opener was also special in another way for Jake. In addition to his sister and mom, his grandparents, along with his second cousin (Charles Bowdoin) and great aunt (Judy Tucker) and some family friends from Dothan plus his other grandparents from Auburn showed up to support him.
“I get to see them sometimes, but it was special to see them here as I am playing,” Jake said.
The all-star baseball tournament also turned out to be a time of reminiscing for Gabe Gross, who said he hadn’t visited the G. Marvin Lewis Youth Sports Complex in several decades and has made only a few trips to nearby Northcutt Field. Gross said he has a lot of fond memories of playing youth ball in the city, including at G. Marvin as a member from his home ball park of Doug Tew Field.
“I was very fortunate to play at Auburn – football and baseball memories – professional baseball in the minor leagues, big leagues and a World Series (with Tampa Bay), but I don’t know if my time in Dothan isn’t just as memorable – whether it was Northview-Dothan, Northview-Enterprise and some of those big games I played in football, basketball and baseball and definitely here at Westgate with city championships,” Gross said. “I got all the way to the finals (one year) and it still stings (that we lost). To a 12-year-old’s mind – and even in a grown man’s mind – a couple of epic battles with some really good teams were here.
“I played (against) Chris Pruitt, who was a great player on an all-star team from Westgate, and won a close game against them and played the Wiregrass (Park) All-Stars and they were really good with really good players, and I will never forget that game as long as I live. We won those games to get to the championship then lost in the championship (in extra innings to Lincoln Center).
“It really hit me when I walked in here (on Friday) that there were some really good teams and that there was some heartbreak here too.”
Gross also recalled his first-ever football experience at the nearby Northcutt Field as a seventh grade with Honeysuckle Middle School as a quarterback and safety.
“I never experienced that much nerves before in my life and it was really from the moment I went to bed the night before,” Gross said. “It was coming all day long in school. I couldn’t concentrate as I couldn’t think of anything but that football game. I remember we scored as I threw a touchdown pass to Brad Abercrombie, but we got beat either 14-8 or 14-6.
“When it was over with, I remember being very disappointed that we lost yet being very satisfied that I played. I had grown up playing football in the backyard all my life and I had finally played in a football game and it was an awesome experience. It started a love affair that I still carry to this day.”
This past week’s all-star tournament wasn’t the first team experience together, though, for Jake and Gabe. Jake has been a presence the last six years in the dugout for Auburn University games since his dad began coaching there in 2018.
“It has been interesting (to have him in the dugout) as he has learned so much,” Gabe Gross said. “It has been a valuable time as a father.”
While a left-handed batter like his dad, who played seven years in the majors with Toronto, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and Oakland, Jake is a left-handed first baseman/pitcher and outfielder whereas his dad was a right-handed outfielder, especially during his college and pro baseball days.
Jake played mostly first base at the tournament, though he played second and pitched in the opener.
“He is a good first baseman as he knows how to pick it around the bag, but I think his fondest desire is to be on the mound,” Gabe Gross said. “He also loves to hit, but he really loves to be on the mound with a ball in his hands.”
As he enters seventh grade this fall, Jake will play football for the first time at East Samford School in Auburn. He has previously played in flag football, but not in tackle football. In addition, he plays basketball and is an avid golfer.
“My dream has always been to play baseball at Auburn and eventually make it to the big leagues. I want to repeat his success,” Jake said.