Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 7, 2014

'One more year' pays off for Wolf

Newton alum signs with SK Wyverns

Alex McNamee
Effingham Daily News

NEWTON — Ross Wolf was much closer to working from a desk, eight hours a day, than he let on.

The former Newton baseball player, who was a major part of the Eagles’ 2001 Class A state championship, was going to “suck it up” for one more year in the Texas Rangers’ minor league system, last spring, and then retire.

The year went better than he expected, getting called up to the Rangers and pitching in a career-high 22 games and 47.2 innings, giving him a new life in baseball.

He will not be playing for the Rangers next season; in fact, he’s leaving North America. Wolf opted out of his major league contract in December to take an opportunity in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Wolf signed a contract with the SK Wyverns — located in Incheon, South Korea — a team that finished sixth in the Korean League last season. He declined to discuss the details of his contract, but said the move is as much about the experience as it is the money.

“It’s a good chunk,” he admitted. “It was something I needed to do. I’m 31 (years old) and to get back into the big leagues, from the minors, like I did this year, is going to be hard.”

Wolf benefited from some luck last season in getting to the big leagues, when the Rangers brought him up from Triple-A Round Rock for a start against the Oakland A’s.

The Rangers scratched starting pitcher Nick Tepesch because of a blister and called up Wolf, who was the scheduled starter for the minor league team.

He pitched five innings in a 3-1 win for the Rangers, making his timely luck count for his first major league win in his first career start.

Wolf stayed with the major league team for much of the second half of the season, pitching in 22 games with a 1-3 record and 4.15 ERA.

The newfound major league success pulled Wolf away from the idea of retiring, so he re-signed with the Rangers in November with an invite to spring training.

The Rangers included a clause in the contract that allowed Wolf to opt out if he had options overseas — possibilities he’d heard about from current and former teammates, including Yu Darvish.

Darvish, a Rangers starting pitcher and two-time American League All-Star, began his career in the Japanese professional league. Both he and his translator said it could be a great opportunity for Wolf.

“His translator was awesome,” Wolf said. “I kind of picked his brain about it. He said, ‘When you’re 50, you’ll be glad (you did it).’”

Wolf received an offer quickly, so he and his wife made a decision overnight. They both agreed it would be a great experience; in fact, he said his wife is the most excited.

He will be a starter for the Wyverns, which he recently learned is the name of a mythological dragon, and that’s the position he loves to play.

“The last 13 spring trainings, I’ve been going in as a reliever,” Wolf said. “This year when (Texas) made me a starter, I loved it.”

The 31-year-old admitted that the move to Korea likely spells the end of his Major League Baseball career and said he enjoyed his time with the Rangers organization.

He spent several months playing for a first-place team, which exceeded his expectations going into last season.

“(The organization) said, ‘You were awesome and we’re going to miss you,” Wolf remembered. “They took care of my family.”

In moving overseas, Wolf hopes to continue taking care of his family. He said his goal is to retire happily and watch his kids — a four-year-old son and 14-month-old daughter — grow up, after finishing his career.

Wolf isn’t looking forward to the 12-hour plane ride to South Korea, but he’ll just have to suck it up one more time.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or alex.mcnamee@effinghamdailynews.com.