A lot on Ross’ home plate

At Wrigley, new skip­per has to deal with new re­al­ity

Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com @slgreen­berg

There was a big birth­day at Cubs man­ager David Ross’ home Fri­day. Maya, his berne­doo­dle — a Ber­nese moun­tain dog and poo­dle mix — turned 1.

Ross, 43, bought Maya last Au­gust, a gift for his three kids. They’d al­ways wanted a pup, but Ross had a hard time wrap­ping his head around the idea. How can a base­ball player have a dog? How’s it sup­posed to work with all the travel a player, an­nouncer or man­ager has to do?

“When is there a good time for it?” he re­mem­bers think­ing. “It’s re­ally never.”

He was wrong. It was the per­fect time. Re­cently di­vorced, Ross bonded with Maya at spring train­ing in Ari­zona. Af­ter base­ball shut down in March be­cause of the pan­demic, Ross had a con­stant com­pan­ion. Nowa­days, he walks Maya by the lake and in the neigh­bor­hood sur­round­ing Wrigley, watches ‘‘Sport­sCen­ter’’ with her on the couch and scratches her head while dig­ging into “Ivy,” the Cubs’ in­ter­nal scout­ing data­base, on his lap­top.

Turns out hav­ing a dog isn’t at all what Ross thought he was get­ting him­self into. Turns out man­ag­ing the Cubs isn’t, ei­ther. “I wish the out­side world [could see] — not that they don’t have their own is­sues — but what the play­ers are hav­ing to do,” he said. “It’s ex­tremely hard, and it’s men­tally tax­ing.”

But as Ross went on from there, he easily could have been de­scrib­ing him­self. In fact, he was. Ev­ery player and coach on his watch is fac­ing a harder-than-usual ex­is­tence at the ball­park on a daily ba­sis. That more than ap­plies to the man­ager, too.

“You’re al­ways wor­ried about be­ing too close to some­body, and you’re al­ways wor­ried about your mask,” he said. “You put one back on to go [in­side], out­side or in the bullpens. And then you get test day com­ing up when you might get re­sults, and a lit­tle bit of that un­known, a lit­tle bit of that anx­i­ety: Have I done ev­ery­thing right?

“You start run­ning back in your mind about the two days since you’ve been tested — what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in con­tact with — just in case some­thing bad may come back on your test. I mean, it’s real.”

But there’s a lot more on Ross’ plate than that. There is the heav­i­ness of the re­spon­si­bil­ity he feels for all in­volved to fol­low healt­hand-safety pro­to­cols and keep the Cubs’ base­ball bub­ble in­tact. He didn’t train for this. He didn’t spend the great­est years of his life study­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases. He was a ballplayer, a catcher, a big lug with a big­ger per­son­al­ity who helped pitch­ers win and club­houses come to­gether.

Now, he spends so much time talk­ing about the coro­n­avirus — in­clud­ing in daily Zoom news con­fer­ences, which can’t be all that fun — that it must be hard to tell where the scary stuff ends and base­ball be­gins.

Ross’ peo­ple skills are rare and true. With­out them, he wouldn’t have had the ca­reer he did, prob­a­bly wouldn’t have a World Se­ries to his name and cer­tainly wouldn’t have this job. But the Ross who smiles, laughs and charms his way through many a nor­mal in­ter­ac­tion isn’t im­per­vi­ous to anx­i­ety, frus­tra­tion or stress. There have been a few clipped an­swers in those news con­fer­ences, a few small signs that not ev­ery­thing is de­light­ful. How could it be?

He ad­mits he’s tired of talk­ing by the end of the day.

“But you know what?” he said. “We’re in this home ball­park, and it feels like the sea­son is right around the cor­ner. I’m new . . . [but] it feels like that. Like, we’re hav­ing a lot more se­ri­ous talks about per­son­nel, and I’m start­ing to have those thoughts when I lay in bed at night and think about the group.”

Think­ing about play­ers, about chem­istry, about win­ning — that’s the fun stuff, what’s at his base­ball core, why he’s here in the first place.

Alas, there’s a virus out there that’s threat­en­ing it all, and when is there a good time for that? It’s re­ally never. ✶

MARK BLACK/AP

Cubs man­ager David Ross has to spend a lot of time talk­ing about the coro­n­avirus th­ese days.

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