A lot on Ross’ home plate
At Wrigley, new skipper has to deal with new reality
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. ✶
Cubs manager David Ross has to spend a lot of time talking about the coronavirus these days.