Ross and his father have come a long way
Left-hander would throw with dad for hours on their farm in Lexington
ARLINGTON -- It all started with a bucket.
Chuck Ross had been a Minor League catcher, a second-round pick by the Brewers in 1974 out of Tate Creek High School in Lexington, Ky., who was later traded to the Orioles. Ross never made it to the Major Leagues.
"He had his best Spring Training with the Orioles and they still sent him down," Robbie Ross Jr. said. "When that happened, he decided he had enough and he retired."
Chuck Ross went back to Kentucky and eventually became a general contractor, forming his own construction business. But he never forgot how close he came to the Major Leagues, and he decided to transfer his ambitions to his sons. Chuck's oldest, a left-hander who could throw the baseball, was especially promising.
"He was my coach when I was little until I was 15," Ross Jr. said.
Dad was also Rbbbie's catcher on their 32-acre farm in Nicholasville, a town of 28,000 people just outside Lexington that serves as the seat of Jessamine County -- is the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region. It's a center for farming, the wine industry and the raising of those world-renowned thoroughbred horses. In the middle of all this, Chuck Ross was raising a Major League pitcher.
"Whenever I needed someone to catch me, he would say, 'Let me get down for you,'" Ross Jr. said. "But he couldn't stay down too long, so he would say, 'Let me get the bucket.' Then he would sit on that bucket and catch me all day long."
That's just one of many fond memories that Robbie has of Chuck on Father's Day, and, no, they do not have different formal names. Both are Robert Charles Ross, and that's why this season, beginning in Spring Training, the Rangers left-handed reliever asked to be known as Robbie Ross Jr.
"I always signed my autograph, Robbie Ross, Jr.," Ross Jr. said. "I've always signed official documents that way, so I said, 'Dude, why not get Junior on the uniform.' I wanted it for a while but I had never said anything."
The gesture honors not only the man on the bucket who taught him how to pitch, but the father who raised him, put him through a private Christian school, freely embraced and loved his future daughter-in-law and eventually became his son's best pal.
"It's great," Ross Jr. said. "I just love hanging out with him, sitting around and talking, going hunting. I always love it when he comes into town and we can sit around and talk.
"The best thing about him was his spiritual influence and the way he led his life -- the way he glorified God to the fullest. He always lived by not what he wanted but what he felt God had anointed him to do. I always respected him for that.
"He had a never give-up attitude. He always worked hard to provide for his family. He always worked hard for his family, but he was always there to spend time around his kids. I will always love him and respect him for that."
Playing at a small Christian school did not hurt Ross' baseball prospects. In 2008, he was the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year and earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. Ross also participated in all the big showcase All-Star games for high school seniors, and he ended up being drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Ross signed with the Rangers, and his father continued to catch him for a few years in the Minor Leagues until Robbie's stuff just got too good.
"He just said, 'Your stuff just has a little too much giddy-up for me,'" Ross Jr. said.
The bucket had served its purpose, and Robbie Ross Jr. will never forget it.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.