AKRON If the past two seasons have proven anything for the Akron RubberDucks, it’s that any player could be moved at any time as the Cleveland Indians pursue their first World Series championship since 1954.
Last season it was star outfielder Clint Frazier getting shipped to the New York Yankees as part of the trade that brought flame-throwing lefty Andrew Miller to the Indians for the pennant run. This season, Cleveland shipped out promising starting pitcher Thomas Pannone, whose 7-2 record made him a key piece in the trade to bolster the bullpen with Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Smith.
Each time a player is traded and must make their way from Akron to their new organization, it takes a lot of people working together to carry the deal out and help that player land on their feet in their new home.
One of those people is Shad Gross, a familiar face to players and coaches, but one fans rarely see.
DOING IT ALL
“My first year was 2003 as a visiting clubhouse assistant. I did that for three years, then I ran the visiting side in 2007 and 2008 and I’ve been on the home side since 2009,” Gross said. “My official job title is director of player facilities, but around the business they call it the clubbie. I take care of everything from food to the players … snacks, gum and seeds in the dugout, cleaning the clubhouse … just little things and a little of everything, basically.”
In that role, Gross is squarely in the middle of helping traded players make their way to or from Akron. When a trade happens involving a RubberDucks player, Gross typically gets a call from the manager or head trainer letting him know what’s going down. When Pannone was traded to Toronto, it was an off day for Akron, but Gross had to make sure he was in the clubhouse helping as Pannone packed his bags and left in a hurry.
“They set up a car shipment and he gave me his car keys so I had to coordinate that with the shipping company as far as getting his car to him,” Gross said, noting that because players need to get physicals done quickly to finalize trades, they fly out and have to leave their car behind.
With many of the players who have been traded during his tenure with the team, Gross has seen a mixture of shock and trying to process what just happened, resulting in conversations that are, “Sorry, but congratulations.”
Many who work within an organization build relationships with players, so seeing them traded away can be a jolt. Gross said he doesn’t keep up with many of those who are traded away, save for the occasional Facebook message if they have a big game in the majors.
24 HOURS A DAY
Because of the do-it-all nature of his role, Gross has encountered more than a few odd situations on the job.
Last year, the Cleveland Indians played a marathon, 18-inning game in Toronto, depleting their bullpen and forcing the team to scramble for pitchers to call up for the following day. Right-handed Shawn Morimondo was tabbed for a call up to the majors, having spent most of his season in Akron. Getting Morimondo across the border into Canada proved to be a challenge.
“Our team is on the road and I get I get a call from the Columbus (Triple-A) staff because Morimondo was there making a spot start for Columbus even though he was kind of still with the RubberDucks,” Gross recalled. “I’m literally five minutes from home, but his passport was in his apartment and his key to his apartment was in his locker. I had to go back and get here, get the key out of his locker, go to his apartment and meet one of the Indians’ interns and give him the passport to take to Morimondo at the airport. He had to fly from wherever he was to Cleveland to pick up his passport, then on to Toronto.”
Morimondo was on the move for reasons other than a trade, but it’s trades that can produce some of the craziest stories behind the scenes.
“The craziest trade I ever had was the (Drew) Pomeranz trade, where Adam White was supposed to make a rehab start here that night. Literally 15 minutes before the game is pulled out, so the manager’s coming through and there’s one guy from the bullpen who’s fully dressed and he had to run out and warm up before the game, so that was a wild night,” Gross said. “Names just kept popping up and by the time all is said and done, four of our players were traded, so it was a wild situation.”
He recalled another trade that brought a familiar face, current Indians ace Corey Kluber, to the organization. Akron was Kluber’s initial stop after being sent to the Indians and Gross enjoys being one of the first people Kluber met within his new organization. He recalled the star pitcher being the same back then as he is now after a Cy Young Award and a World Series appearance, “quiet, just does his business, polite … never asks for anything extraordinary, just a great guy.”
Whether it’s greeting a star player acquired in a trade, helping a big-name prospect on his way out of town or anything in between, the job is “24 hours a day,” Gross noted. He could get a text or call at any hour of the day asking him to rush to Canal Park to get something from the clubhouse or meet a player at the airport.
It’s all part of the mix in minor league baseball, where players are being developed to possibly help the big league club in the future, or to be used as an asset in a trade to help in a pennant chase. For Gross and many other members of the RubberDucks organization, it’s all part of the process.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB