Commentary

Things turn out all right for Ross

From Series to scare with son, Red Sox catcher sees light through clouds of worry

Updated: March 26, 2014, 1:45 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They were in Tampa playing the New York Yankees the other day, and Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross, who had just doubled, was standing on second base when Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain, approached during a break in play. Jeter had a question about the World Series.

"He asked me, 'Did you have fun?'" Ross said. "I told him, 'No, I didn't have fun. I had fun after we won, but during the middle of it I was stressed out, a nervous wreck.'

"Every time I thought about winning the World Series, it was like, overwhelming. Like emotionally, just wow, we've got a chance to win the World Series -- don't mess it up."

[+] EnlargeDavid Ross
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesEven in his 12th year in the majors, David Ross says he doesn't take landing a roster spot as a given.

David Ross is naturally outgoing, affable, upbeat and one of the players most responsible for taking the sourness out of a Red Sox clubhouse badly in need of air freshener. He also is, by his own admission, a worrier.

"I'm the kind of guy who looks at the worst-case scenario, and I'm happy when things work out," Ross said. "The older I get" -- he turned 37 on March 19 -- "the more I worry."

So you can only imagine how Ross reacted the other night when he and his wife, Hyla, rushed their 4-year-old son, Cole, to a hospital emergency room when the child couldn't breathe.

"His mouth was turning blue," Ross said. "It scared the heck out of me. I could see other people rushing around and panicking."

Hyla Ross is a pediatric ICU nurse. "She's the calm one," Ross said, "and I'm like, 'She's calm, I'm calm.'"

Doctors determined the cause of Cole's loss of breath: Unbeknownst to his parents, he is asthmatic. That night, he'd experienced his first attack.

The child is fine now. He's home and was given medication and an inhaler. It all makes sense now to Ross: how Cole used to complain frequently of being tired, or that his legs hurt if they were out walking. "He wasn't getting enough oxygen," Ross said.

"But that was scary."

Watching his child struggle to breathe makes the Series-induced anxiety Ross experienced last October shrivel by comparison. That didn't make it any less real, however.

Ross had been playing pro ball since he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998. He had played for six big-league teams since then, including a cameo appearance with the Sox back in 2008, when he played in eight games. Only once, in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds, had he played enough to be regarded as an everyday player; otherwise, he'd been a career backup.

Now he was playing in his first World Series, after a season in which he missed 65 games while on the disabled list. Ross was struck twice in the catcher's mask by foul tips on May 11 in Toronto and developed concussive symptoms thereafter. He had played only 36 games in the regular season; now he was front and center, catching the deciding Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and all four games won by the Sox in the World Series.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," he said. "When the World Series was over, I weighed 223. I hadn't been 223 since, like, college. I went through the season between 230 and 235, usually 233, so I lost a good 10 pounds, just from nerves."

Normally, Ross said, he is a sound sleeper. During the Series, he found himself getting up to watch TV in the middle of the night because he couldn't sleep. His appetite suffered. He'd eat maybe half a sandwich for lunch. The bathroom seemed to be beckoning constantly.

"I don't know if that's my personality," he said. "You're in a new situation, in that spotlight on the stage of the World Series, you don't want to let your teammates down. You don't want to be that guy who messes up, does something bad. I wanted to be that guy who leaves it all on the line."

There also was the awkwardness of having his catching partner and lockermate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, being benched after the Sox lost Games 2 and 3 of the Series. In both losses, Saltalamacchia had made critical errors; and he was having a terrible time at the plate, striking out 19 times in 32 postseason at-bats. And now Ross was taking his place.

"He took it as well as he could take it, but I know he had to be disappointed," Ross said of Saltalamacchia. "I would have been. I was out two months. He led this team to win the division, and now he's not playing on the biggest stage. It had to be tough on him.

"I don't think it was awkward as far as our relationship. I just knew it had to be eating him. I was trying to stay out of his way. Salty always has been a team guy, like me. He just wanted to win.

"The bottom line is he's got a World Series ring. I wasn't in his situation, but if the tide had turned and I'm still getting a ring in a week or two, I'm fired up. I'm sure there's a little bit of disappointment for him, but things worked out for everybody. He got a great contract with the Marlins; he's going to have a long career in this game."

Ross told himself to remain focused on the task at hand -- the same advice he has tried to follow his entire career. The task immediately at hand, in Game 4, was a daunting one: The Sox were relying on a fatigued Clay Buchholz, a shell of the pitcher who had been unbeaten in the season's first two months, to somehow piece together a competitive start while pitching essentially on fumes.

"It was an unknown," Ross said. "I was just going to take it inning to inning. I was going to give as much feedback to John Farrell as I possibly could, but it was really rolling good. I caught Clay's bullpen; he wasn't dealing, but he was really manipulating the ball well. He was throwing around 86, but he didn't have to have the velocity to pitch."

That would be the first of three straight wins for the Sox. The Cardinals scored a total of five runs in the four games caught by Ross. He also hit a tiebreaking, ground-rule double that accounted for the winning run in Game 5, becoming just the fourth Red Sox catcher -- joining Jason Varitek, Carlton Fisk and Wally Schang -- to have a game-winning RBI in a Series game. And Ross was the man who hoisted closer Koji Uehara into the air when the Sox closed out the Cardinals in Game 6, Uehara striking out Matt Carpenter to end it.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ross
AP Photo/Matt SlocumDavid Ross could breathe a sigh of relief after his go-ahead double in Game 5 of the World Series.

The season for worrying was over.

"Every player is different in how they feel," Ross said. "Obviously, David Ortiz was probably more comfortable than I was. The same with Dustin [Pedroia]. Some of the guys who went through a full season, their confidence probably was very high.

"But it was a different journey for me. From not being very good to getting hurt to coming back for a short period, being terrible, then coming back and starting to find my swing, trying to help the team any way I could, to all of a sudden things start clicking. And I mean, I catch all four wins of the World Series. It was a nice, nice trip to make with these guys."

The low point may have been the game in which Ross came back from his concussions and struck out in all five plate appearances.

"The toughest thing for me when I got the concussion and I was stinking it up, I didn't want the guys who didn't know me to think I was bowing out because I wasn't hitting well," he said.

"The five-punchout game, I'd never done that before. It should have triggered a ding, ding, ding that I was still not right."

He laughed. "That'll never be erased from the record books. Five punchouts is not the goal, but we won and I was able to turn the page a little bit.

"Obviously, as good as I am," he said with another laugh, "I have to be hurt to strike out five times."

Maybe it's because he's the guy who imagines those worst-case scenarios, but Ross made a startling admission for a guy entering his 12th season in the big leagues.

"I never had any expectations of being in the major leagues," he said, "so I'm thankful and kind of in awe. I've been released. I've almost been non-tendered. I've been with a bunch of organizations. I realize the business end of it, so I don't ever take it for granted just to make the team. I realize how fast this game is going to be taken away from me.

"But I've never gotten discouraged. I've always said, let's see, try to work as hard as I can, and if that's what I do, I can look in the mirror and know I gave it my all, regardless of whether someone else thinks that's enough. I know my flaws by this point. I know what I'm good at. I'm comfortable with who I am and trying to do the best I can."

And sometimes, it works out far better than he ever allows himself to imagine.

"I was really happy for me and my family, the journey they've taken with me," he said. "A dream come true."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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