“Do it big, do it right and do it with style.” — Fred Astaire
David Ross may not have Fred Astaire’s penchant for elegance and style on the dance floor, but he sure knows a thing or two about doing it big and doing it right. And that applies to baseball and his gig on the hit ABC series “Dancing With the Stars.”
The retired Chicago Cubs catcher and World Series champ finds himself one step closer to that show’s coveted mirrorball trophy Monday night when goes toe-to-toe in the semifinals against Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Fifth Harmony singer Normani Kordei and NFL running back Rashad Jennings. His overall judges’ scores may not be in the same league as those of his three competitors and their pro partners, but Ross’ diehard Cubs Nation fans are not about to settle for anything but another championship from their beloved “Grandpa Rossy.” And neither is Ross.
“I can’t believe how much fun I’m having, and the competition just blows my mind,” Ross says during a recent phone chat during rehearsal for Monday night’s live telecast. “Obviously, I’m not the best dancer in the group, but it’s just fun to be part of it. … And it shows how many people out there are voting for me, and it makes me feel the warm and fuzzies inside. I’m just so thankful. It just blows my mind.”
Nothing prepared Ross for this new chapter in his life, he says, but that’s part of the challenge and the excitement of trying new things, even if it comes with a side order of frustration. The stress of six-hour rehearsals six days a week often gets to “DWTS” competitors, and the grind plays out on live television. There’s no hiding hurt feelings, disagreements with a coach or aching muscles. There’s no sitting out a week to rest up.
“Baseball came naturally to me. It’s something I’ve been doing all my life,” the 40-year-old says. “This is so far outside my comfort zone. When you’re a professional athlete you pick up things pretty quick. But these [dance] steps are pretty frustrating all throughout the week. And you keep doing stuff over and over again and repeating those steps hoping you’ll get better. It’s extremely difficult and frustrating. … We’re learning two dances [a foxtrot to Michael Buble’s ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ and a tango to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’], so it’s been six-and-a-half or seven-hour days, and it starts as soon as you’re done on Monday night; you’re right back [rehearsing] on Tuesday morning. And it’s all new choreography. It’s a lot of work physically, but you also learn a lot about yourself mentally.”
It’s that mental frustration that’s unlike anything he’s encountered in baseball, Ross admits.
“In baseball, you make an error, or you strike out, or you’re having a bad game, and it’s short. I messed up here, I let a ball get by there or I called the wrong pitch, and it’s short, it’s over. This [dancing] is extremely frustrating because it’s failure over and over and over again. [Laughing] Judging from the back of my baseball card I’ve had a lot of failure in my day. … But mentally it beats you down some days, and some weeks are tougher than others. I also think the song choice has a lot to do with it. If you enjoy the song or there’s meaning behind it, it’s easier to work through it. There’s only been one or two weeks where I haven’t really loved the song or felt a connection to the dance. [He says his recent paso doble was the most difficult.] … The payoff is on Mondays when you’ve nailed the dance. It’s memories I’ll never forget, just great moments I’ll never take for granted.”
Ross is riding high on a few other great moments in his life, including the release of his memoir, “Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages,” and the launch of his breakfast cereal, Grandpa Rossy Crunch. (Seems like just yesterday the ultimate cereal connection for an athlete was the cover of a box of Wheaties.)
“I feel like a kid, honestly,” Ross says with that familiar laugh. “When they asked me would I like to do a cereal, I was like, are you kidding? My own cereal? Who doesn’t want that? My kids can’t believe Dad’s on a cereal box.”
So whose brand will sell more boxes, his or fellow teammate Anthony Rizzo’s, whose own breakfast cereal, RizzO’s, also hit Jewel-Osco shelves recently?
“I’m pretty sure it will be just like our careers,” Ross says laughing. “It will be Rizzo’s. I love that guy. He’s been better than me at just about everything, so I hope he sells more.”