The emergence of T.C. Williams right-hander Alec Grosser as a big-league prospect is a multi-state odyssey that features a flat tire along Interstate 75 near Ringgold, Ga., a familiar Good Samaritan, a 425-mile drive, a late arrival at Kiwanis Field in Salem, Va., and an impromptu head-snapping performance that had seen-it-all professional scouts exchanging puzzled do-you-see-what-I-see? glances.
“A year ago, if someone had told me I’d be in a spot like this,” said Grosser, who has been contacted by 29 of 30 major league teams since that fateful Friday night in southwest Virginia, “I would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”
It all started on July 6 in East Cobb, Ga., north of Atlanta. Grosser’s travel team had been eliminated from an event there, so in the early afternoon he started out for Salem to play in the Commonwealth Games, an annual Virginia all-star tournament.
About 10 minutes into the trip, the car in which he was riding, driven by another player’s father, suffered a flat tire. There was no spare.
“We were like, yeah, we’re probably not even going to make the game,” Grosser recalled.
But along came a knight in a gold 2005 Chevy Avalanche. Brian Bailey, whose son Chase Bailey is a Robinson player who had stayed behind in East Cobb for another tournament, passed the breakdown, saw the baseball duffel bags at roadside and recognized the driver. He picked up Grosser and Oakton’s Mitch Carroll, another stranded Commonwealth Games player, and headed north.
Grosser arrived in the middle innings. Five minutes after being issued a jersey and cap, he was warming up at the directive of Potomac Coach Mike Covington.
Grosser, a wiry 6 feet 4 inches and 195 pounds, entered the 1-1 game in the sixth for the North team, hurled six sparkling innings and tickled as high as 94 mph on one scout’s radar gun and 95 mph on another. His slider was breaking in units of feet. Murmurs rippled through the stadium.
“I kind of felt the buzz, definitely,” Grosser said.
Scouts thrust questionnaires toward him as he exited the stadium, routine paperwork that Grosser did not even know existed. Now he has a Boston-based sports attorney advising him, and some evaluators say that Grosser could be selected in the top five rounds in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, set for June 6-8.
“One scout said to me, ‘Jesus, I could get fired over this,’ ” Covington said. “ ‘This guy is right here in my back yard and I haven’t even heard of him.’ ”
There were many reasons for that. For one, Grosser plays on a high school team whose best seasons in the past dozen years have been a game over .500. He quarterbacks the Titans’ football team, so when he would pitch during the fall, he was not particularly sharp. He had not thrown all that well early last spring while he was recovering from knee surgery; he was named a second-team all-Patriot District third baseman and not honored as a pitcher. And because he already had committed to George Mason, his summer league coaches were more interested in showcasing pitchers still looking for college deals, said Grosser’s father, Saul.
So before Salem, Grosser had thrown about 10 innings all summer despite traveling to tournaments in Ohio, South Carolina and then Georgia. Asked to compare his son’s pitching profile pre-Salem to his profile post-Salem, Saul Grosser said, “He had no profile.”
Even Grosser’s peers were a little puzzled during his gem in Salem.
“Everybody was looking around saying, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” said South County catcher Keaton Tettlebach, who warmed up Grosser in Salem and faces T.C. twice a season. “He was on fire.”
Grosser was talked up to Covington as a potentially useful utility player moreso than a front-line pitcher. So if that was the book on Grosser in Northern Virginia, it’s no wonder the scouts were in the dark.
Gene Kerns, a veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves, was on hand in Salem that day.
“He’s a very athletic kid, and that’s what you’re looking for,” Kerns said. “He’s got a great body. He has a loose arm that works good, and he’s got all the makings of a young man that when he gains another 15 or 20 pounds in three or four years he could really be an impact-type guy.”
“You look in the stands and you see guys looking at each other and cell phones are popping out all over the place and people are making calls left and right like, who in the world is this guy?” Covington said. “We’re all sitting over there with our mouths hanging open like, geez, we haven’t seen anything like this in a long, long time.”
Grosser knew he had pitched well but was fairly oblivious to the hubbub until Covington pulled him aside later.
“I put my arm around him and said, ‘Son, I don’t know whether you realize what you’ve done tonight, but you just opened a lot of doors and may have put a pile of money in your pocket. He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I don’t think he realized what he had gone out there and done.”
Others sure did. There were about 25 scouts behind the backstop at Eugene Simpson Stadium in Alexandria, T.C.’s home field, when Grosser opened the season against Ireton this month. Grosser struck out 10 batters in four innings. At a home game last week against South County, when he gave up one hit in six-plus innings, there were nine area scouts and three cross-checkers on hand on a miserable, blustery, two-heater night in the Titans’ dugout.
Grosser throws with what Baseball America calls “whippy, deceptive, three-quarter arm action” with movement galore on his pitches and a hard late-action slider that T.C. Coach Jim Blair already considers “professional.”
Projected to start at 2 p.m. Wednesday at McLean, Grosser is not sure what path his baseball career might have taken had Brian Bailey not stopped and picked him up along the side of a Georgia highway.
“I’d be in a different spot, you know?” Grosser said. “It’s like luck and a lot of other stuff mixed together. It’s crazy how it happened.”