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MARION, Iowa - Cole Gross should be a coach someday.
No one works harder and has more of a passion for the great game of baseball. He's always on time for practices, cares deeply about his teammates and how they are doing on the field and off.
There's not a member of the Linn-Mar team that knows baseball players and history as well as he does, especially when it comes to his beloved Chicago Cubs.
"Oh, he'd be a good coach. Absolutely," agreed Linn-Mar head coach Chad Lechner. "He loves the game, and it's contagious for everybody else. It really is. He's got a good attitude, you can always count on him to get everybody focused a little bit. He's enthusiastic. I just don't know what it'd be like around here without him. When he's gone after this year, it's going to be so different."
Gross hasn't necessarily made a difference on the field. He's been more of a JV guy, someone who gets into varsity games when Lechner can get him in.
But just being around the field and in the dugout daily has provided an immeasurable boost to everyone.
"An awesome kid. For what he's been through ... just a great kid," said Linn-Mar Athletics Director Scott Mahmens. "Loves being a part of the team, will do anything for the team. You can't ask for a better kid than Cole."
"He makes those other kids thank God for what they've got," said Linn-Mar's Austin Stroschein. "Just seeing that kid out there and wanting to be out there is inspirational."
Inspirational - that's definitely one thing you can call Cole Gross. His mom, Cathy, had a difficult delivery with him, a tragic delivery.
"He was basically stuck," Cathy Gross said.
The doctor pulled him out by his right arm, permanently damaging the nerves on the right side of his body and breaking his arm and neck. What was supposed to be one of the happiest days of Mike and Cathy Gross' life turned into their most horrific.
Cole has endured 26 surgeries and doesn't have full strength on his right side. He had a feeding tube until he was in second grade and his vocal cords are permanently damaged.
Yet he shrugged when asked about what he has gone through.
"It's just been a normal life," he said. "When I was younger, it was kind of rough because I really couldn't do a lot. I had to have my (right) arm straight up in the air until I was two years old. But other than that, I've just been living a normal life."
Baseball has had so much to do with that self-proclaimed normalcy. He began playing when he was five and has never stopped. Yeah, there was a brief fling with basketball, but it's been hardball all the way.
You think of Jim Abbott when you watch him. Abbott pitched in the major leagues despite being born without a right hand. Cole is an outfielder who catches a ball with his left hand, takes his glove off and throws it back lefty.
"He was probably 9 or 10, and we were playing a game," said Mike Gross. "He's playing outfield and a ball gets hit out to him ... His glove went flying, and he went running after the ball. Some of the families on the other team were yelling 'He can't do that. He's throwing his glove at the ball.' We were like he's not throwing his glove at the ball. He's getting rid of his glove so he can go get the ball. It's been just awesome to watch him from tee ball to high school ball."
"I'm playing the game I love," Cole Gross said. "There's something about this sport that just gives me a positive attitude. I don't know. I just fell in love with it. It's helped me, for sure. Helped me keep my mind off of things. Coming to the field every day, that's what I look forward to."
His coaches and teammates look forward to seeing him every day.
"We treat him just like one of the boys," Stroschein said. "He works just as hard as anyone on our team. He does the job, gets the job done and deserves to play as much as everyone else. It's unbelievable, crazy, to play with one arm. I don't know if anyone else could do that if we were in the same situation as Cole. It's pretty amazing, remarkable what he can do."
They all talk about that line-drive single to left field Gross had last season in a JV game against Cascade. He still talks about the feeling of walking on the beautifully manicured Principal Park field last year for the state tournament.
Linn-Mar has been so-so thus far this season with a 9-8 record. Gross said there's still plenty of time for the Lions to put it all together and make another postseason run.
"Cole is probably the best teammate I've ever had the pleasure of coaching," Lechner said. "He's just so positive with all the guys and wants to see everyone do well."
Sounds like a coach in the making, right? Gross won't go that far, saying he wants to get into some sort of communications/journalism job. The plan is to attend Kirkwood Community College for a year, then the University of Iowa.
"I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see about coaching," he said.
"He inspires you on a daily basis," Lechner said. "You think you've got it bad because you went 0-for-3 or something. But you look at Colely out there busting his tail every day, doing everything everyone else does. Never a complaint, never heard a single complaint out of him."
By the way, Mike and Cathy Gross successfully sued the doctor who delivered their son.
"What would Cole be like if none of this would have happened?" Cathy Gross said. "Then you think Cole wouldn't be Cole. Cole would not be the amazing son that we have."
Inspirational. Amazing. They both fit when it comes to Cole Gross.