Dance all days: Ross basks in limelight

Former Cubs catcher gets bling, enjoying life after baseball

April 13th, 2017

CHICAGO -- wasn't quite dancing, but he still seemed light on his feet.

After throwing out a ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ross did do a quick step to home plate toward his old battery mate, , who caught it. Ross skipped his first couple of steps, a huge smile on his face.

And why not? Really, why not?

"I couldn't control my emotions," Ross said. "The day built up on me. I was excited to get here. I felt like I was a kid coming to his first Major League game. Even watching the game from the stands, it was the first time I ever did it. It was really, really cool. I felt like a kid out there. It came out in my walk, my skip, my high-fives."

Ross has become a special assistant to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, a baseball analyst for ESPN, an author, a motivational speaker and most notably a national phenomenon on the show "Dancing with the Stars" in the 161 days since ending his career with a home run off in Game 7 of the World Series. That's a lot for a guy who had thought his plate was full as a backup catcher, husband and father.

"I really feel like I'm the luckiest man ever," Ross said. "I've got a book coming out. I can't even read. How do I have a book coming out? Somebody bought the rights to my book to make a movie. I'm on 'Dancing with the Stars;' I was on "Saturday Night Live" and "Ellen," then doing some charity things. Eddie Vedder gave me a shoutout in Game 5 [of the World Series]. Who am I? I don't even know anymore. It's so crazy.

"I'm appreciative, and the emotional part for me is the love I get, is for who I am, not my stats. That's the part that gets me emotional. People like you for you, who you are as a person, not just who you are as a player."

Ross was on the "Dancing with the Stars" set in Los Angeles on Monday night, when the Cubs raised the World Series banner at Wrigley Field. He and his partner, Lindsay Arnold, survived elimination while doing a Viennese waltz, which wasn't easy considering how much of Ross' heart was with his old team on the diamond and in the clubhouse.

Ross is the first person tied to baseball to participate on ABC's popular dance show, which is in its 24th season. The 40-year-old said he would not have done the show if the schedule hadn't worked out so he could have been at Wrigley when the World Series rings were passed out.

That was first order of business Wednesday night, when players and coaches received rings encrusted with 108 diamonds, signifying the drought that ended with the seven-game victory over the Indians last fall.

Ross drew one of the loudest cheers from the crowd of 40,844, popping out of the third-base dugout wearing a championship jersey -- his name and No. 3 written in gold on the back -- over khaki pants. His new-found star power is a marvel to behold, even for his best friends.

"The guy is an A-list celebrity," said. "I have to contact his assistants now just to [talk to] him."

Rizzo was joking, sort of. He and many of his teammates hung out with Ross on Tuesday, the night after Rizzo's ninth-inning single delivered a 3-2 victory in the Cubs' home opener.

But Ross' popularity has soared since he signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Cubs in December 2014, not coincidentally less than two weeks after Lester signed with the Cubs. Ross had been Lester's personal catcher for two seasons in Boston and they reprised that role in Chicago, this time with Ross becoming nicknamed "Granpa Rossy" by Rizzo, and his younger teammates.

"We had some text messages going back and forth," Ross said of Lester in the time when the Cubs were pursuing him. "I wasn't just trying to follow Jon Lester; I was trying to take care of my family at that point. The fact the Cubs wanted me as well as him was special. The way that's worked out was obviously the best decision I've ever made. Theo tells me all the time, 'Aren't you glad you didn't go here or there?' I tell him, 'Hey, 'I would have won there, too, buddy.' "

Ross embraced the chance to play at Wrigley Field, and Cubs fans quickly came to treat him with affection. He counseled Lester through the public examination of his yips throwing to bases and rode alongside him through his 19-5 season in 2016, when he was second to Max Scherzer in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

Ross was squeezed onto the Opening Day roster in 2015 alongside fellow catchers and , and spent much of '16 in a three-catcher rotation with Montero and rookie .

Ross spent time on the disabled list with concussion symptoms his first season in Chicago, and he let it be known early that he wouldn't play after the end of his contract. The thing nobody saw coming was that Ross had one of the most productive years of his career as a 39-year-old, delivering 10 home runs and a .784 OPS in 166 at-bats.

Ross' 1.8 WAR matched the second best of his 15-season career, the only better one coming with the Braves in 2009. Had the Cubs not given him a chance to ride off into the sunset, they might have tried to talk him out of retiring.

"I mentioned it a little bit," manager Joe Maddon said. "[But] maybe he played so well last year because he knew it was going to be his last year. He just put it all out there. He worked hard to get in shape to play as well as he did. After winning the World Series, I'd say, 'Please don't come back. Just go be with your family and do other things.' I thought it was really the perfect ending to an interesting career."

Like Ross' former teammates, Maddon has been impressed by Ross' work on "Dancing with the Stars." He said it shows him that Ross could have a career ahead of him as a manager if he gets the itch to get back into uniform.

"One thing I love is that he's stepping outside his comfort zone now," Maddon said. "It's a big leap of faith to jump out on a dance floor in front of the nation after being a baseball player. I love that. That in and of itself tells me he'd be a good manager. He has all the necessary requirements, plus he's not afraid to take a chance or a risk."

Ross says that Maddon is right about him being outside his comfort zone. Ross said he had to conquer his own inhibitions a couple weeks ago, when he and Arnold did a dance that played off the movie "Magic Mike," about a male stripper.

"I'm as far out of my comfort zone [as I could be]," Ross said. "I did the 'Magic Mike' routine the other night, and I literally couldn't sleep one night. I drop my kids off at school, and like half the elementary school goes, 'Mr. Ross, we watched you on 'Dancing with the Stars.' I knew I had 'Magic Mike.' I'm like, 'Wait a minute. All these 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds are going to watch me take off pants and shirt.' It scared me to death. It took a lot to do that. I feel like it's the first World Series game I ever caught every time I step out there. My heart rate is through the roof. The emotions are crazy."

Arnold accompanied Ross to Chicago so they could work on next week's performance. Ross said they rehearsed from 8 a.m. CT until almost 3 p.m. on Wednesday before he could focus on seeing his former teammates and picking up his World Series ring.

Pretty solid day.

"It was just a joy for me," Ross said.

Dance on, David. Dance on.