Garland optimistic about third season

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   As old man winter has reminded local residents that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve, former Happy Valley baseball standout Ross Garland headed south to sunny Lakeland, Fla. for spring training that officially begins on Friday.
   "I've been looking forward to getting down in the warm weather and getting baseball going again," said Garland before his departure. "You want to head south where you can get outside and work out. That's kind of a problem around here. You have some facilities like inside the Dome and places where you can hit inside cages. But, it's hard to get outside and run and work out like that."
   Garland, who arguably was the greatest all-around athlete ever at Happy Valley, is starting his third year as catcher in the Detroit Tigers' minor league organization. The former Warrior great was promoted last season from the rookie Gulf Coast League, also in Lakeland, to the Tigers' Class A farm club in Oneonta, New York.
   "It's my second spring training and it's kind of a bubble year for me," Garland explained. "Hopefully, I can go down there and do well and win a job somewhere. This year I definitely want to play in the Midwest League, which is in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I want to be their number one catcher. If I have a good year, hopefully I can move up in mid-season."
   Since becoming a part of the Tiger organization, Garland sees his biggest improvement coming on the defensive end.
   "I can catch and throw as well as most people can," said Garland. "But, I had a bad year at the plate last year. I was the second string catcher, so my number of at bats were limited and my average went down."
   As he alluded to, Ross struggled after the move to the Empire State, with his batting average slipping to .151. He is positive that average will greatly improve this season with help from the Tigers coaching staff.
   "The good thing is they work with you," said Garland about the Tigers' coaches. "If they think something is wrong and they can teach you, they will take the time to put you aside and get things right for you. You have plenty of coaches and plenty of experience. Everyone knows the game well and they take care of you."
   Garland can also recall some of his own experience from playing Little League ball here in Carter County.
   "In Little League, you practice hitting off the tee and we still do that everyday," said Garland. "You never can learn enough. Baseball is a game of technique. It's things you learn and practice at every day. You could spend all day in a batting cage."
   Ross took us through the routine of a typical morning with the Tigers.
   "We start early in the morning and stretch and throw for an hour," said Garland. "That helps you get into it. Then, you take batting practice and hit off tees and things like that for two hours or so. Then, you start seeing live pitching."
   While he just reported to camp on Monday, Ross is in good shape thanks to a winter weight training routine.
   "Weight training is more of an off season thing," said the 6-0 Garland, who stands in at a muscular 192 pounds. "During the season, you just maintain. You don't lift heavy or anything like that. You just lift to stay healthy and in shape. But, there's still a lot of running.
   "They condition you pretty good, but it's not as bad as some people think. They're not going to kill you. They just try to keep you in shape and keep you healthy. You're pretty busy. You play 70 games and have only about four days off, so it's hard to get out and do things."
   At Happy Valley, Garland quarterbacked the Warriors to their greatest season ever on the football field. He also excelled on the hardwood, playing basketball for his grandfather, longtime head coach Charlie Bayless.
   Obviously, he showed quite a talent on the diamond as well, getting the chance to play professional baseball soon after high school. He is now focused on taking his dream one step further of making it to the "show."
   "In three years, I've got to be looking to the big leagues," said Garland, who just turned 22 last week. "That's got to be the goal if you are playing minor league baseball. I think that is possible to be playing Major League Baseball in three years."