Blue-collar background fits Gload well

Blue-collar background fits Gload well

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ross Gload is from East Hampton, N.Y., but don't confuse him with the rich and famous often associated with "the Hamptons" on Long Island.

"It's big in the summer. A lot of celebrities tend to head out there in the summer from New York -- it's a nice little place out there," Gload said.

But that's just part of the story.

"It's really a blue-collar town. When you say you're from East Hampton, people that know the area say, 'Ah, you must be rich,' but it's rich about half the year," he said. "My dad's a retired carpenter and my mom is an assistant teaching aide at the school."

That's appropriate because Gload fits as a blue-collar baseball player -- hard-working, gritty, dependable, necessary, but often overlooked.

Gload has been one of the names swirling around first base for the Royals this spring. Gload, Ryan Shealy, Billy Butler, even Mark Teahen who hasn't even played there so far this spring.

"It's confusing but what happens, happens. Everyone thinks first base is the easiest position on the field and everyone can play there so when you're over there, you've just got to stand out or play well. That's out of my control. When I'm in there, I just play hard and try to do well," he said.

It's reasonable to assume, though, that Gload will be at first base on March 31 when the Royals open the season at Detroit. Beyond that, nothing is certain. In fact, Gload was in right field for Saturday's Cactus League game against the Padres.

Somewhere, somehow Gload figures to be in the mix. The Royals, after all, signed him to a two-year, $3.2-million contract last winter with an option for 2010.

"My biggest compliment was really getting a two-year deal this year. Having someone say, 'We believe that you can be here next year, not just if you play well in April you'll be here in May, if you play well in May...' " Gload said. "That's kind of always the way I played, just day-to-day."

That's been Gload's history. Grind it out and hope somebody notices. Even during a rookie season when he hit .321 with the White Sox in 2004, he was just a part-time player.

Obtained from the Sox for pitcher Andrew Sisco, he got off to a good start last year before being stopped by a torn right quad on May 14. He missed 42 games, but was virtually the full-time first baseman after his return.

A left-handed hitter, Gload is unusually tough on left-handed pitchers. Against the odds, he hit .388 (19-for-49) against them last year and has a .345 career mark against them (he's a not-bad .283 against righties).

"Sometimes when I'm struggling I almost want to see a lefty," Gload said, "because when I'm hitting against lefties I'm always trying to hit the ball up the middle or the other way. Sometimes you get too big against a righty or you want to do too much against a lefty. I know kind of what they're going to do. Most of them are going to stay away from you and I try to work to what they're going to do."

Here's another statistic that jumps out from his dossier -- last year he batted .500 (15-for-30) with two homers and eight RBIs in nine games against the mighty Yankees. That plays big in East Hampton.

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"It's kind of nice to play good against them. It's the only time my mom gets the Royals' game, when they come on at home so it's kind of nice to know you've had a good game and a couple of people from home have watched."

Gload grew up as a Mets fan but, with Shea Stadium a couple of hours away from home, he spent time watching both New York teams -- and their first basemen -- on TV.

"Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly -- they weren't bad to learn from growing up. Flip back between Channel 9 and Channel 11 and watch those two teams play and those two guys playing," Gload said.

"Those guys probably did it as good as it could be done at the time. They took a ton of pride in their defense and they were great hitters, too."

Gload apparently soaked up what he saw.

"I like the way he moves at first base. I like his footwork especially on the bag. He moves easy there," manager Trey Hillman said.

"He plays the game the right way every day. He goes hard. He's got a good sense of humor. He's funny in a very serious way. I can see why he's one of the clubhouse favorites -- he's an easy guy to get to like."

Guys like Gload often elicit this compliment from their peers: Well, he's a ballplayer.

"That's probably one of the reasons I'm still going. That's one of the biggest compliments if your teammates will say it or even if your coach will say it," Gload said.

"I guess it means you're not a five-tool guy, but you've got to figure out other ways to play the game. I like at the end of the day having some dirt on the uniform or playing hard, beating out a ball or making a diving play."

It's that blue-collar upbringing.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.