CHICAGO -- Though he comes to bat while the words of Alphaville's "Forever Young" echo throughout Wrigley Field, David Ross understands there is no freezing time now.Ross long ago announced his intentions to retire at the end of the year, plans he recently reaffirmed with "99.9 percent" certainty. Things are
CHICAGO -- Though he comes to bat while the words of Alphaville's "Forever Young" echo throughout Wrigley Field, David Ross understands there is no freezing time now.
Ross long ago announced his intentions to retire at the end of the year, plans he recently reaffirmed with "99.9 percent" certainty. Things are building toward a crescendo, too, as Ross, whose career has spanned 15 seasons with seven organizations, finds himself on a Cubs team one win from advancing to the World Series.
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It's a familiar, but nonetheless cherished, position for Ross, who was in the same spot with the Red Sox in 2013. Boston dispatched of the Tigers in a six-game American League Championship Series that season en route to capturing the franchise's second championship in seven seasons. It was Ross' first.
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For Ross to pen a storybook ending to his year-long retirement party, he'll need some help. As Jon Lester's personal catcher, Ross has already started twice in this NLCS against the Dodgers. But he's unlikely to do so again this weekend. Kyle Hendricks has been paired with catcher Willson Contreras throughout the postseason, and Jake Arrieta has developed a strong rapport with Miguel Montero.
And so Ross will watch and root and once again offer his experience to teammates who haven't been on this doorstep before.
"I'm just trying to stay in the moment," Ross said. "Don't even think about the World Series. We have Clayton Kershaw on the docket for Saturday. This guy is one of the best in the game. We'll celebrate once we go, but if you start looking at big picture, you'll get lost and it will swallow you up and it will be gone."
Despite a part-time role and an underwhelming regular-season slash line (.229/.338/.446), Ross has emerged as a key piece within an organization that he joined two winters ago, mostly to follow Lester. Teammates often talk about the 39-year-old Ross as they would an older brother. He rebukes when it's needed, instructs when he's asked and breaks the tension when he senses things are getting too serious.
Perhaps that impact was best described by Lester when he characterized his batterymate as "the heartbeat of our clubhouse" earlier in the postseason.
"He's the most vocal leader we have," Hendricks added. "He's been around. He's won where he's been. Just watching a guy like that, picking his brain, talking to him day-in and day-out, I've learned a ton from him, and I know what he's done for the team has been monumental."
The internal impact Ross has made has seeped out of those clubhouse walls, which perhaps explains how a backup catcher nicknamed "Grandpa Rossy" became so beloved by a fan base that has hardly known him.
There were stories about him riding around in a motorized scooter during Spring Training, and the creation of an Instagram account that teammates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo used to document Ross' season. The depth of Ross' impact then took on a more tangible quality when Jason Heyward revealed that he would pay for Ross to have a hotel suite on every road trip this season.
It was Heyward's way of saying thank you to the man who had, years before, taken him under his wing in Atlanta.
"It's a lot of love," Ross said, "and I promise you, I don't deserve even half of it."
Ross says that about his career, too, wondering how an offensively challenged catcher managed to survive in this game as long as he has. Yet, in a sport where players so often fade away before they're ready, Ross has the unique opportunity to not only go out on his own terms, but to also go out on top.
"I kind of feel like I've lived my dream," Ross said. "I feel like I've had a very long Major League career and have done things that I never thought I would be able to do. It's gone way off script."
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.