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Lone Star

He’s lonely up there all by himself. He stands alone in a spotlight that players of all ages — many from the Tampa Bay area — dream of.

Though Major League Baseball is lacking former USF players in its ranks this season, there is one who stands alone, though he usually sits on the bench in his socks –his White Sox, which are actually black.

Ross Gload, of Red McEwen fame and notability, is currently the only Bull featured on any MLB roster, though he’s also on the disabled list with a left shoulder inflammation.

After playing for three years in a green and gold uniform, Gload was discovered and signed by Florida Marlins scout Dejon Watson, but had to take a seven-year journey to get to the bench he said feels great just to sit on.

“I had to work hard for five or six years to get (to this level with the White Sox),” Gload said before facing the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field on May 10.

“I’m that guy off the bench. I know it, and it’s OK. Anytime you have to give a superstar the day off, I come off that bench and I want to win that game. Or there’s times where they need me to jump into left field (and) get a couple (of) outs, but it’s okay that I know I’m going back to the bench the next day.”

Gload left his mark at USF, especially in 1997, when he set various records including most doubles in a season (25). However, the record was broken on May 13 by Bull’s third baseman Jeff Baisley, who has 26 doubles with three regular-season games left to play.

While Gload doesn’t have numbers or career records in the majors yet, he still has the respect of the often outspoken and perennial White Sock manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team is currently six games ahead of Minnesota for first place in the AL Central and has had the best record in baseball (29-12) for most of the season.

“Sorry, I don’t talk about players who don’t play for me because they are hurt,” said Guillen, a three-time All-Star shortstop who played for 16 seasons, 12 of them with the White Sox. Guillen retired in 2000 after a year with the Devil Rays. “If you do not play for me, and you’re not on my roster where you can help me, I do not talk about you.”

Always the joker, Guillen relented, saying he was just kidding and spoke very highly of Gload.

“He is a guy that not many hear or talk about. He’ll do anything to help this team win. He’s good for the team, and he’s good for his teammates.”

His former coach, USF’s Eddie Cardieri, agrees with his major-league counterpart.

“He’s a blue-collar player; a very tough guy,” he said. “(Ozzie) is absolutely right. He played tremendous defense while here (at USF). He is that guy who never says die.”

Cardieri is right about never rolling over. It has never been easy for Gload and he knows it, which is why he won AL Rookie of the Month in September 2004 after batting .403 and even finished eighth in Rookie of the Year voting.

“I just want to play,” said Gload, who is second all-time in single-season hits for USF, with 99. “I played every day in the minors and (with the White Sox) is where I want to be. I’d rather be here with them than playing in Charlotte.”

Although Gload makes Charlotte sound like playing baseball in Costa Rica — one of the few Latin America countries that doesn’t feature baseball — in 2003 he played for the Class-AAA Charlotte Knights, his first year in the Chicago organization.

That first season was record setting for the 29-year-old Brooklyn native.

In 133 games, he batted .315, got 160 hits — which ranks third all time in a single season for the Knights — had 40 doubles, 18 home runs and 70 RBI, making it his most productive pro season to date through seven years and four different major-league organizations, including the Cubs and the Rockies.

He may be lonely in the big leagues, but Gload’s not lonely when he returns to the place he called home for nearly four years. Friends and family, including hitting coach Bryan Peters, came to see him during the May 9 game against the Devil Rays.

Those memories stay with him, and so do some collegiate preferences.

“I miss those metal bats. It would be nice to use the metal bats again,” said Gload, who had two hits and an RBI in seven games prior to getting injured. “Though I had some great years there. It’s the reason I’m here. I’m sure of it. I always look back and think of them and thank them, thank those coaches for giving me the opportunity that has gotten me here. They’re the reason I’m still playing.”

Guillen realizes that even though Gload is not one of his everyday players, he’s still indispensable to the Chicago team people care about as occasionally as Halley’s comet.

“I think when I got this job,” he said, “and I saw him in spring training, I said, ‘This is going to be my left-handed hitter from the bench.’ It’s easy for him to be a bench player, because I give my bench players opportunities to play. He knows his role, and he’ll do it.”

Added Cardieri, “He’s always out to prove people wrong. He knows he’s a good player, and he wants to prove to other people that he’s a good player.”

Gload finds himself not lacking attention or companionship from other USF players but happy, watching a game from the bench he knows he’ll always love.

“(At USF), it was day-by-day, and a lot of it is year-out things. That’s why we work so hard (at college) — that way, one day we can be here helping out a major-league ball club.

“For the most part, riding the bench in the majors beats playing in the minors. This is where I want to be, ever since I was eight, nine years old.”