An unbeliever starts to soften on the David Ross phenomenon

SAN FRANCISCO — Some of us have been slow to understand the infatuation with Cubs backup catcher David Ross. Some of us have wondered what the results of this poll question would be in Chicago: What’s greater, Cubs fans’ love for Ross or God’s love for mankind?

A Cubs fan would respond: How many times can we vote?

People can see that the 39-year-old Ross is genuine and that he’s genuinely a nice guy. But the clear thinkers among us have to balance those truths with another, that some Cubs fans would cheer a turnip if it were wearing a Ron Santo jersey.

And then you see Ross hit that third-inning home run to tie Game 4 of their National League Division Series against the Giants, you watch him being interviewed as the Cubs celebrate their trip to the N.L. Championship Series and you feel the first rays of enlightenment washing over you.

Catcher David Ross, center, celebrates with teammates after the Cubs won their National League Division Series against the Giants on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Catcher David Ross, center, celebrates with teammates after the Cubs won their National League Division Series against the Giants on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“I got a homer – how about that!’’ Ross told CSN Chicago. “Blind squirrel theory.’’

Self-deprecation can soothe the savage cynic.

It’s understandable that Ross’ teammates would be drawn to a part-time player, given his age, enthusiasm and impending retirement. He has been a mentor to and a cheerleader for his fellow Cub.

His on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the regular season was .784, sixth-best on the team, and he has done good work behind the plate. He threw out two San Francisco baserunners in Game 1 of the NLDS. And with that homer Tuesday night, he became the oldest Cub to hit a home run in a postseason game in team history.

But there is almost no way that whatever Ross has done for the Cubs could translate into this much love. None. And yet, somehow, it has. A standing ovation for him at Wrigley Field is not a rarity. When Ross caught a no-hitter in April, a few people even found time to congratulate the pitcher who threw it, Jake Arrieta. The Cubs honored Ross at a pregame ceremony Sept. 23, which included a video board tribute.

So what is it? I wanted to know if Ross could explain it and if he found it all a bit bewildering, if not a tad embarrassing. I started to ask him the question, and it was clear from the moment he cut me off that he got it.

Fans have really taken to you even though you’ve only been here two years …

“And I don’t play much either,’’ he said, smiling.

Exactly. How does a career .229 hitter who has played a total of 139 regular-season games as a Cub engender this much devotion?

“I appreciate the love and support,’’ he said. “I mean, it’s a lot of love that I feel. I don’t know why. That’s something you could ask my teammates or the fans. I try to be myself. I think a lot of it stems from the nice things my teammates have said about me all year, the way they’ve treated me the last two years, at spring training.

“They’ve given me a lot of respect and (so have media members) talking about how great I am, which is complete BS. I think a lot of it stems from that. Guys that are the face of this franchise, guys like Jonny Lester and (Kris Bryant) and (Anthony Rizzo), the future stars in (Addison Russell), and all those guys seem to say nice things about me.’’

A friend of mine appeared at a Sun-Times Playoffs Party at Harry Caray’s restaurant recently and expressed similar disdain on stage for the Ross phenomenon. When the panel discussion was opened to questions from the audience, a woman stood up and saluted the Cubs for honoring Ross for all that he had done.

Clearly, we Ross realists are losing big to the Ross rooters.

When Rizzo and Bryant set up a Grandpa Rossy Instagram account (@grandpaRossy_3) to chronicle Ross’ final season, it was an immediate hit. It has 153,000 followers. Not bad for a backup catcher.

“Since the Grandpa Rossy Instagram thing took place, it’s been a lot crazier for me just out and about in public,’’ he said.

Ross has been with seven teams in 14 full seasons. That he has been popular among teammates wherever he has played is probably the biggest tribute to him.

“You just try to go in with a clean slate and be yourself and you have to prove your worth everywhere you go and figure out how you’re going to contribute,’’ he said.

Yes, yes, but why all the affection?

“Who knows?’’ he said. “I have no idea, but I really appreciate it. It’s a lot of love and I promise you I don’t deserve even half of it.’’

I used to think the same thing too.

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