Spc. Frank R. Gross from Oldsmar killed in Afghanistan

OLDSMAR — Spc. Frank R. Gross lived a lot of dreams, all of them his.

He knocked a home run at the Baseball Hall of Fame before he was a teenager.

He left that pursuit in college to follow another dream, earning degrees to become a Web designer and artist in the business world.

He died Saturday amid another one — as a soldier for his country less than a month after he was deployed.

Gross, 25, of Oldsmar, was killed in Khost province in Afghanistan after an improvised explosive device caused his vehicle to roll over, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Sunday in a statement.

Gross had enlisted in May 2010, a military spokesman said. He was part of the 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, out of Fort Hood, Texas.

"This young man always strove to do his best at whatever he did," his mother, Antonia, said in a phone interview Sunday from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. "When I wanted him to do something, I never had to ask him to do something twice."

She was at the base Sunday with Gross' father, Craig, awaiting the arrival of their son's casket.

He was deployed June 28, his mother said. She last spoke to him over Skype a week ago, when he told her he was thankful for the air conditioning there. He even said he appreciated the food.

Joining the Army wasn't all about dreams. After graduating from Full Sail University near Orlando, Gross had student loans to pay off. He decided the Army would give him the chance at decent pay and advancement, his mother said. Both his parents come from military families, she said.

So he set about being a soldier, earning recognition for marksmanship, his mother said.

He was born in Virginia, moving with his family — his sister Natalie is 28 — to Florida. A neighbor, Stanley Kwiatkowski, remembered Gross as an athletic teen. He sometimes worked out two or three times a day, said Kwiatkowski, who called Gross "a credit to his family."

In 1999, at age 13, he played with his hero, Cal Ripken Jr., at a baseball camp in St. Petersburg. Ripken pitched to him, a thrill.

In 1998, he hit a home run at Dreams Park, the ballfield at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as part of a Florida team playing there for a week.

"We lived, ate and drank baseball," he wrote in an account then for the St. Petersburg Times.

Home-schooled until the eighth grade, Gross became a pitcher at Indian Rocks Christian High, his mother said. It got him a scholarship to play at Trinity International University in Illinois.

But he decided his chances at Major League Baseball were slim, so Gross ultimately tapped his artistic side at Full Sail, his mother said. He received bachelor's and master's degrees there to begin his business pursuit, receiving perfect attendance honors. He celebrated by skydiving in California.

"This young man, he lived life," his mother said. "He really lived life."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Spc. Frank R. Gross from Oldsmar killed in Afghanistan 07/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2011 7:43am]

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