By Mark Jezek
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Many kids in the state of Texas grow up dreaming of playing competitive sports. Few go on to be high school stars and make a name for themselves at a top program at the high school level, and even fewer get the chance to play the sport they love in the collegiate ranks.
When Hayden Ross graduated from Austin Westlake High School, he thought that was the end of his sports career. He took a short break from baseball in the summer before his freshman year at Baylor, but soon couldn’t resist the urge to get back to the sport that he loved.
“I graduated high school in 2012 and didn’t really have any offers from schools,” said Ross. “I knew I was coming to Baylor and I didn’t play much baseball that summer. I really missed the sport. I missed playing games and so I decided in my freshman year that I was going to try out for the club team and try to get myself back in shape.”
What started as an outlet for Ross to revisit the sport he loved soon reignited his passion for the game. In his only year with the Baylor club baseball team, Ross posted staggering numbers. He led the team with a .535 batting average while recording a team high 17 runs in 23 hits that culminated in being named a Gulf Coast Conference All-Region first team member, while also being named a club baseball third-team All-American.
Following the end of the club season, Ross knew he wanted to pursue an opportunity to play for the Baylor varsity team. He knew he would have to improve his game if he wanted to earn his spot on the team, so he devoted the following summer to doing just that.
“That summer before my sophomore year I devoted all of my time to working out and doing nothing but baseball stuff,” Ross said. “I worked with Will Crouch, who was a UT grad, who really helped me to build confidence and fine tune some skills.”
During that summer, Ross reached out to the Baylor coaching staff to arrange a meeting about the possibility of becoming a walk-on for the 2014 season.
“I felt really good about my chances of making the team,” Ross said. “I emailed Coach Steve Smith and told him I would love to drive up and speak with him about my intentions. A few days later I drove up and met with the coaching staff where they told me they already had a full roster for the upcoming year. I left that meeting a little dissatisfied because there was no definitive answer.”
A few weeks before the start of the 2013-14 academic year, Ross got the answer he had been waiting for. He received word that he had earned the ability to compete for a spot on the 35-man roster during fall scrimmages.
“A sponsor for the club team had contacted Coach Smith and told him there was a guy who had impressed him a little bit and was interested in coming over and checking things out,” said Assistant Coach Trevor Mote. “His coaches had a lot of good things to say about him. He was a successful player in high school who had just got here. Seeing that he came from a really good program in Austin and his progression here with the club team we just said, ‘Hey, let’s give him a shot in the fall and see where it goes from there.’”
From there it was all up to Ross to earn his spot on the spring roster.
“I was really pumped up and ready to go,” Ross said. “I went through the fall competing for a spot on the 35-man roster and after the first couple of scrimmages I felt like it was going pretty well.”
Things were going much better for Ross than just pretty well. The coaches and fellow players had noticed his work ethic and competitiveness and the decision was made that he had earned his spot.
“We all met Hayden at the first team meeting,” said teammate and starting second baseman Lawton Langford. “He just worked really hard and showed that he is a competitor every time he steps on the field. I think that is one of the things that our coaches really liked about him. He is a hard worker and a guy who will go out and play hard every day.”
After learning he had made the 35-man roster, Ross would not have to wait long to get his chance in a game. In Baylor’s first game of the 2014 season, Ross was called in as a pinch runner, and was named the starting second baseman in the team’s second game of the season.
“That weekend was awesome,” Ross recalled. “It was a great experience. I honestly never thought I would see the field this year. That was a dream I have always had and something I will never forget.”
Ross has made an impact on the team playing in 22 of the team’s games this season, including 13 as a starter.“It is a big advantage for us to find a guy who is already enrolled in school and can come in and can be a contributing member of the program,” Mote said. “Hayden has definitely been that. He has been a hard worker and a guy who comes out here every day and gives it his all. He is incredibly coachable and just wants to get better. On top of all of that, he is a great teammate. He has been a great addition to our program and we really think his future is bright.”