Ross Finds Blue Collar Fits at Valley

Times Staff Writer

Skid Row. The Bullet Boys. Warrant.

Those are a just a few of the Los Angeles-based heavy metal bands that Steve Ross prefers to such celebrated musical outfits as Bon Jovi.

"I like the local, rough stuff," Ross says. "It's not glamorous and it doesn't have makeup on it."

The characteristics that attract Ross to local metal groups are the same ones that drew him to Valley College last fall.

After spending a redshirt year in the highly successful and relatively glitzy College of the Canyons baseball program, Ross decided to transfer to Valley and join the Monarchs' motley crew.

"When I came out to Valley, it was me," said Ross, a North Hollywood resident. "It was a scrappy, non-glamorous attitude.

"I could be relaxed and play better."

Indeed, Ross' rock-steady play at shortstop and second base this season helped Valley earn a berth in the Southern California regional of the state tournament, which begins today when the Monarchs play host to Orange Coast at 2 p.m.

Valley (29-11-1), which finished behind Ventura in the Western State Conference playoff tournament, was ranked among the top teams in Southern California all season. Orange Coast (30-10-1) finished third in the powerful Orange Empire Conference and had the second-best record in Southern California behind top-seeded Cypress (31-13).

Neither Valley Coach Chris Johnson nor Orange Coast Coach Mike Mayne were thrilled with their match-up when the pairings were announced Monday.

But the freckle-faced, auburn-haired Ross, who at 5-feet-8 is 155 pounds of scrap mettle, was unfazed.

"Sooner or later you're going to have to face a good team," Ross said, "so let's do it now."

Ross, 20, has reason to be impatient. He waited more than a year for his chance to play regularly at the college level and is eager to prove that he can sustain a higher level of play.

The growth of Ross' self-confidence coincided with that of his hair, which falls to his shoulders behind his head and to his nose in front.

"I've always liked long hair because that's my personality," Ross said. "I had short hair at the beginning of the season and got a lot of compliments. But for some reason it wasn't me and I didn't feel like me on the baseball field.

"I let my hair grow and now I'm playing better. I have the full surfer's wave, but I usually wear a hat because everyone rags on it."

There were no complaints about Ross' play during Valley's drive to the playoffs. After sitting out six weeks in the fall because of tendinitis in his right elbow, Ross made his initial contributions as a substitute.

"Steve was kind of like on our bench at the beginning of the season and I didn't pay much attention to him," Johnson said. "But he kept working at his game and he never got down. When the time came for him to step in and do a job for us, he didn't panic."

Ross received his opportunity midway through the season when shortstop Ray Sabado came down with a sore arm. Since Sabado's return to the lineup a few weeks ago, Ross has played second base while E. J. Pape is recovering from a wrist injury.

"I didn't let not playing affect my attitude," said Ross, who is batting .320. "When I was on the bench, I said, 'All right, I know I'm going to be in there sooner or later.' Every man has his few moments and I knew my moments would come."

Ross had many shining moments at Providence High, where he was an All-Delphic League second baseman who batted .485 and teamed with USC's Jeff Cirillo to help the Pioneers win the 1986 Southern Section Small Schools Division title.

Upon graduation in 1987, Ross enrolled at Canyons where a logjam of middle infielders forced him to redshirt. He practiced regularly but did not attend games.

"It was frustrating to watch others play," Ross said. "I thought I'd be a nuisance to the team because I'd be pouting in the dugout. Nobody needs that."

During the summer, Ross decided he needed a change of scenery.

After talking with several Valley players, including catcher Eric Vargas, a former Little League teammate, Ross enrolled at Valley and embraced the Monarchs' blue-collar reputation.

"I'm hard-nosed," Ross said. "That's why I'm always banged up and bleeding.

"I've always been the small guy who had to work, work and work and never got anything easy. But when you work hard, good things pay off."

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