JOPLIN, Mo. -- Phil Cross expects to learn something new every time he comes to the ballpark. He might see something or hear something, or something might click in his mind.
"The day you know everything there is to know about this game, you need to go do something else," he said Saturday.
Cross, 59, is the director of the successful Houston Heat youth baseball program. He offered his personal philosophy while watching one of his teams play in the Premier Baseball Junior Championship at Joplin High School.
Cross, a former college basketball player (he's 6-foot-7), began the Houston Heat program in 2001. He started with two teams, grew to four teams, and now there are 12 teams this summer. All of the players are from Texas and most are from Houston, with a few coming from a 100-mile radius of Houston.
The program's success speaks for itself. Four Heat graduates are currently in the major leagues with Homer Bailey (Reds), Jay Bruce (Reds, 15-day DL), Scott Kazmir (Rays) and David Murphy (Rangers). Two others, Josh Barfield (Indians) and Troy Patton (Orioles), are on 40-man major league rosters. Kyle Drabek, currently in Double-A ball with the Phils, could be on the way to the big leagues soon. Down in college ball, Anthony Rendon of Rice was named the 2009 National Freshman of the Year, and A.J. Morris of Kansas State was honored as the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year.
Want more? Matt Purke was a first-round pick in the 2009 draft by Texas as the 14th selection overall, and Aaron Miller of Baylor was a sandwich pick by the Dodgers as the 36th pick overall. On top of all that, 36 Heat players who graduated from high school this year are going to college to play baseball.
"Every year when I look it up and see the number of kids who are going on to play professional baseball or college baseball, it reinvigorates me for the next year," Cross said.
He's proud of his program, but not boastful. "We're a small part of their success," he said. "We weren't all of it, and we never claimed to be."
Cross runs the Houston Heat as "a hobby." he said, with no compensation. 'It's been a joy to do."
Cross doubles as president of Baseball USA, a national organization that he joined two years ago in Houston, and prior to that worked as an accountant in the oil and gas industry.
His assistant directors with the Heat also work as volunteers. He said his coaches receive "a stipend" for their work, and credits them for the program's high level of success. "We couldn't do it without them," he said simply.
His chores with the Houston Heat and Baseball USA keep him double-busy. The Baseball USA program has facilities in Houston with 16 indoor cages, 11 fields, 12 to 14 full-time instructors, weekly tournaments, a pro shop, concessions, league play and practices. There's a $2.5 million stadium at the complex, with brick walls, seats for 850 fans and shaded grandstands.
Cross oversees it all, including the restrooms.
"I do it for one reason and one reason only," he said, "and that's for the love of the game."