CINCINNATI — David Ross — or “Grandpa Rossy,” as he’ll be immortalized in Cubs lore — has been lavished with attention and love by his teammates all season, especially as he wound down toward Saturday’s final regular-season start of his career.
How fitting that it should take place here, the only one of Ross’ seven big-league stops where he was a true No. 1 catcher.
“All these emotions and all the praise I’ve been getting lately, it’s just overwhelming and one of those things I’m not really used to having been a backup most of my career,” Ross said. “So I’m ready for that to kind of fade and to just go into playoff mode and get ready to work. I’m thinking about October.”
The truth is, that’s not all that’s been rattling around inside his 39-year-old head.
He finds himself thinking about such things as his very first at-bat in the Show. It was 2002 and Ross’ Dodgers were playing in Anaheim, where the Angels’ Aaron Sele was three outs from a 7-0 shutout. Ross was warming up a reliever in the bullpen when he got word that he was on deck.
“I ran in from the bullpen as fast as I could,” Ross recalled with a laugh, “but Paul LoDuca swung at the first pitch.”
LoDuca was out, and Ross — out of breath — was up. He remembers Dave Roberts rushing him a helmet and battling gloves, and Sele striking him out before he knew what had hit him. Veteran Eric Karros told him after he walked down the dugout steps that striking out in one’s first major league at-bat was a good thing — there was nowhere to go but up.
A week later, Ross started his first game in St. Louis. The Cardinals had a loaded lineup, but Ross helped Hideo Nomo go seven strong innings and caught every pitch of an 11-inning victory. He also threw out Edgar Renteria, the first player to attempt a steal on him.
The nerves going into that game were out of control, but Ross was good to go — always would be — once the gear was on and he was squatted behind home plate.
“It’s a very calming, comforting spot for me,” he said.
So many memories.
Ross was asked yet again if he’s really retiring, and he answered by talking about nine-year-old daughter Landri’s growing infatuation with volleyball, about teaching seven-year old Cole to fish, about falling asleep with tiny Harper on his chest and not having to pass her to wife Hyla so he can catch a plane.
He thinks about being a better dad all the time and finds that it, too, gives him calm and comfort.
“Look, I’ve gotten to live my dream. Selfishly, I’ve worked hard at it,” he said. “But I’ve gotten to live an incredible life — and it’s been fun — so it’s time now to throw myself into my kids’ lives and be a part of that. I think if you want to influence your kids, you have to be part of their lives. It’s hard to be a part of their lives with this [ballplayer’s] lifestyle.”
Before he knows it, he’ll be Grandpa Rossy for real.
“They’re growing up so fast,” he said. “Life is changing so fast.”
Ross is determined to give everything he has to Jon Lester Saturday as the lefthander goes for a milestone — 20 victories — of his own. From there, it’s World Series title or bust.
Yet there’ve been little things — sentimental moments and gestures — competing for his time and attention before his job is done.
Four mornings in a row in Pittsburgh, the Cubs’ next-to-last stop of the regular-season, Ross, Anthony Rizzo and strength coach Tim Buss worked out at a favorite gym before grabbing lunch in Market Square. In Cincinnati, Ross planned to drag teammates each morning to a classic old diner he’s never quite gotten his fill of.
He’s drinking in all he can before it’s over.
“I’ll be able to walk down the streets of Chicago in three months,” he said, “and nobody will know who Grandpa is.”
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.