Catching up with… Ross Wolf
Right-handed relief pitcher Ross Wolf spent most of 2012 with the RoughRiders after signing with the Rangers organization in late April. The recently-minted 30-year-old appeared in 36 games for Frisco and went 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA and nine saves. He was an 18th round draft pick of the Marlins in 2002 and made his Major League debut for Florida in 2007; Wolf also pitched for the Oakland Athletics in 2010. He recently re-signed with Texas and took the time to talk with me about the off-season, his disappointing playoff performance in September and his path back to the big leagues.
Alex Vispoli: It’s been a busy off-season for you with the birth of your daughter, Emery Shea Wolf, born on 10-11-12. She must be keeping you busy.
Ross Wolf: I know [laughs]. Her due date actually wasn’t until the 18th of October, which is my birthday, which is kind of weird because our son was born a week early too. She’s a blessing, just like our son is. She’s healthy, that’s number one. And my wife is doing good too, so that’s number two. And right now we’re both getting along good. I mean, [both of our kids], they’re going to keep me busy.
AV: Are you getting much sleep?
RW: She’s actually letting us sleep at night which is what our son did. As of right now she’s not any different that the way our son was.
AV: From a timing standpoint, it probably couldn’t work out any better for a baseball player than to have your baby born in October. You’ve got a few months where you can just completely devote yourself to family time before getting into the swing of the season.
RW: Alex, you said it. I’ve played with guys that were only home for about two or three days and then they had to leave to get back into the season. You know, that would hard for the wife and the family. I’m grateful and blessed enough to have a baby in the offseason so that I can be here for her and them for four or five months before we have to leave.
AV: I know it’s still early in the offseason but have you had a chance to start your preparations for the next season at all? Or is that in the planning phases; when do you get into that?
RW: I’m getting ready to start working out next week. I usually take about four or five weeks off after the season and just don’t do anything. I let my body just relax and mellow out before I start it up again. When I start it up it will take probably a good four weeks before I hit it hard. The first four weeks really ain’t tough; it’s just getting back into the groove of things and going from there.
AV: Is that just experience for you as to know what to do with your body or is it something you’ve learned?
RW: I would say yes. I think this is my 12th year playing and … I’ve finally found a program that lasts for me during the whole grind of the summer. It took maybe three or four workout plans to find the right one you like. I think it comes with experience, I think you’re right.
AV: Congratulations as well on re-signing with the Rangers. How did that process go for you?
RW: It went good, thank you. It went really good. I’m still trying to get a big league invite so hopefully they can give me one. I know how the Rangers are; they’ve got a ton of prospects. I mean, you know that too. They want to see what their young guys can do, but maybe I’ll go over there and pitch a lot and maybe they’ll give me one. If not, I’m just glad it’s done and they wanted me back pretty badly. So it’s done and out of the way. Last year I was stressed out, I mean I couldn’t find a team until a week before Christmas, when teams started calling.
AV: So do you know exactly what your role is? When would you figure out what your role would be come spring training? Do you feel like you can make a push at being a guy that they would consider for the big league roster? It’s looking like there’s going to be a decent amount of turnover with regard to players that were on the team this year.
RW: It’s just hard telling. Being in the free agency market for six, seven years now, you just never know who they’re going to sign, who they’re going to trade for. It all comes down to that and going to spring training and showing them that you can pitch for them during the season. And then going into the season and putting up numbers like we did this summer. Just go out there and throw strikes and the main thing is have fun. This team, when I was in Frisco, was probably the most fun that I’ve had in recent years that I can remember.
AV: Yeah, this year it was a great group to be around. But your role in particular, you had a great year in your time with the RoughRiders.
RW: Thank you.
AV: Did you feel any better this year than you may have in years past? Was your stuff any better or was it things just coming together for you?
RW: That’s a tough question to answer. Physically, I felt great, probably the best I’ve felt in the last two or three years. Stuff-wise, I felt awesome. I never had a slider, or whatever you want to call it. Some people call it a hard slider or a big slider or a curveball. I’ve never had that; usually I have been a fastball-changeup guy, and I really didn’t start throwing my changeup until the middle of August. Mentally, the guys on the team were so much fun to be with. You felt relaxed because they went out there and had fun. They weren’t stressed out because they struck out four times in a row, they would still make a play behind you when you’re on the mound pitching. I know that they’re young and I hope that they continue to do that down the road, just go out there and have fun. I was telling my wife it just brought back the joy of the game, just what it’s all about. Just go out there and have fun and whatever happens, happens.
AV:So that really makes a difference? For those of us who have not played the game at a terribly high level, it’s easy to look at it all like a video game with guys having certain physical capabilities. But the fact that it was a good group to be around and that positive mental atmosphere actually – in your case at least – made things easier or helped your performance?
RW: Oh without a doubt. All the way down to the little things. We had fun on the bus trips; we had fun in the clubhouse, before and after games. It helped having Brad Hawpe there too for a little bit for a lot of the guys, and Val [Majewski] of course. The thing that made it good was that the guys wanted to work. They wanted to work, they wanted to have fun and they wanted to win. And, like I said, they hardly hanged their heads when they had a bad day. You couldn’t tell when they had a good day and when they had a bad day, which is awesome.
AV: When you signed with the Rangers organization I remember that you told me that you heard a lot of great things. Guys texted you that you were in a good spot. Was it everything that you heard it was going to be when you signed; was it pretty much that those expectations were fulfilled?
RW: Yes. I had a bunch of guys text me when I signed with [the Rangers]. Old Triple-A veterans like Ryan Rowland-Smith and the Andy Van Hekkens; the guys that have been around for a while, they texted me and told me congrats. I would reply with a “thanks” and then they’d always come back and say, “I’ve always heard that Texas treats their players right and they do it the right way.” After this year, you sit down and think, yeah, they do it the right way, even down to the small things. Frisco’s a great place to play. Guys in Double-A for the first time ever are lucky enough to play in a city like that and in a stadium like that. And then if you get called up to Triple-A [Round Rock], you still have the luxury of playing in a nice stadium in a nice city. They do it the right way.
AV: You spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues. Do you view your goal – to get back to the Major Leagues – the same way as you did when you were trying get there for the first time? Is there any difference, or do take your experiences and try and use them to get you back?
RW: I think both. Alex, you’ve been around the game too. Of course players know this as well. The older you get, the harder it is to get back there. But, just to have the experience, maybe a team will give you a call up and say, “Let’s see what he can do.” If [that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen]. I sat and had a long conversation about this with [’Riders manager Steve Buechele] one time after a game. I still haven’t had a chance to prove myself whether I can pitch or not pitch in the big leagues. I wish a manager would have enough faith in me – I have faith in myself that I can still pitch. It’s just not how managers in the past have treated me. When I was with Oakland, I sat for 24 straight days and didn’t pitch in one big league game. And when was with the Marlins, I pitched once, sat for seven-to-nine days, and then pitched. If a manager would treat me like they do in the Minor Leagues and pitch me once every day or two, I think I’d be pretty successful in the big leagues. You always try to get to the big leagues, but if you know you can’t – and that’s not what the case is with me – being back in Double-A with these guys this year, they look to you. They look to you for questions that need to be answered. They just look up to you, like, “What should we do in this situation?” or “How should we handle this?” and just little things like that.
AV:So for you, it was probably a no-brainer to return to Texas in the sense that you’ve got a year of capital built up with some people within the organization and people have seen you perform. So you’re in a better spot to potentially get yourself back up to the big leagues than if you were to start completely anew with an organization that really didn’t know you very well.
RW: You hit the nail on the head. That’s one thing about being a free agent, you go in blind, no one knows you. You’ve got to build this relationship up. I had a conversation with [Rangers Director of Minor League Operations] Jake Krug and we said that that was probably number one. Guys in the organization like me. I wouldn’t have to repeat it again by going to a new team. I’ll just go into spring training knowing the staff, players, etc.
AV: Going back to the end of this season in the postseason series against Springfield. How disappointed were you with the way things ended for you, specifically in Game 2?
RW: Oh man, I was very disappointed. I told Bue after that last game in Frisco, “It’s my bad for Game 2, that was all me.” And he just smiled and said, “Whatever happens, happens. You’re the one who helped get us here. You’ve done as much as you could, you had one bad game.” I said the same thing to [’Riders pitching coach] Jeff [Andrews] and he said, “Hey man, that’s pitching. You gave up two, maybe three bush-league hits. That’s the way baseball goes. You gave up a bloop flare to center and a ground ball to second base that barely got through. All those had to do was go to somebody and we’re out of the inning and we win Game 2.” You know, it’s disappointing, heck yeah. You go all that way and then lose Game 2 when we needed a “W” for sure. It’s one of those things where you try not to think about it, but it’s baseball. You get over it. I was ready to pitch Game 4, I was ready to go. I don’t know, that’s just the way it goes.
AV: I think the encouraging thing is, when I recently talked to Bue, I asked him about that series and just the momentum in Game 2. He said if he could go back and do it again, he’d still probably be ecstatic knowing that he had Justin Grimm and Ross Wolf ready to go with a four-run lead in that situation. So I definitely don’t think you hurt yourself in the eyes of your manager if he had to make the same choice again.
RW: Oh yeah, for sure. He told me that too. It’s just baseball. You can look at the World Series this year, look at Verlander. Who would have ever thought that he would get rocked in Game 1? It’s just how it goes.
AV: So the Colts are your team, right?
AV: So tell me, Andrew Luck seems to be pretty legit.
RW: I love watching him play. I’ve said it for the last two years when he was at Stanford. And if he didn’t even go to the Colts I’d still be an Andrew Luck fan. He’s fun to watch. To me, he’s very competitive, he’s very smart and every Sunday I love watching him play. And now I’ve got my son, every time a Colts logo comes on TV he’ll say, “Colts! Andrew Luck!” It’s very fun and it’s going to be fun watching him play as he develops into a mature player in the NFL, for sure.
AV: That’s awesome. I’m glad you’re enjoying your time in the offseason. Congratulations again on Emery Shea Wolf and hopefully she gets the chance to see you pitch for the Rangers in not too long.
RW: Thank you, I appreciate that.
– Alex V.