Ross' value to Sox goes way beyond just backup catcher

Ross' value to Sox goes way beyond just backup catcher
October 2, 2013, 8:00 pm
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After sustaining two concussions this season, David Ross was afraid his career might be over.

(AP Photo)

BOSTON – On Sept. 21 against the Blue Jays, catcher David Ross threw out all three runners who attempted to steal. It was the first time in his 12-season career he had thrown out as many as three would-be base stealers in a game, and the first time a Red Sox catcher had done so since Scott Hatteberg on April 30, 1998.
 
“When you’re hitting .200 you better bring something to the team,” Ross quipped after that game.
 
Still, for the Red Sox, it was never going to be only about what Ross could bring behind the plate or at the plate. Yes, those assets are important, of course. But Ross’ value would be just as much in his intangibles. And it was all part of why the Red Sox signed Ross to a two-year, $6.2 million deal before this season.
 
“It’s hard to put a complete value on it because the intangibles that he brings and that doesn’t mean just the conversation in the dugout or the support he gives his teammates,” said manager John Farrell. “He runs a very good game behind the plate. He’s swung the bat much better, or with better consistency, or the results have been better since he came back from the concussions. But his view inside the game and what he picks up on, it’s clearly having another coach with his experience. He’s extremely aware of everything that goes on in the game, even when he’s not in the lineup. And he contributes to the conversation among the staff. He’s made a huge impact even on nights he’s not been in the lineup.”
 
That sentiment is echoed by his teammates. Right-hander Jake Peavy first worked with Ross in 2005, when the Padres acquired the catcher from the Pirates just before the trading deadline. Despite the limited time, Peavy went to Padres manager Bruce Bochy, lobbying for Ross to be included on the team’s postseason roster. Although Peavy’s efforts went for naught at the time, his respect for Ross never waned.
 
“I think he brings way more to this ballclub than most people give him credit for or he’ll even take credit for,” Peavy said.
 
“In so many ways, making sure everybody stays in line and does their work. David is going to be a disciplinarian, so to speak, in a way to younger guys where it doesn’t make them feel like he’s being ugly to them. But at the same time, he’s challenging them and making sure they get their work in," Peavy said. "He’s got a huge accountability role in the clubhouse with everybody, veteran players, younger players. His experience, how well he gets ready to play the game.  For Salty [No. 1 catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia], having someone like him who’s been around, been behind Brian McCann [with the Braves], to grow with, to talk with constantly. He sits right here every night and he’s into every pitch as he’s managing the game, getting other team’s signs. He’s into every aspect of the game.
 
“And then all that being said baseball-wise, what he brings personality-wise and goofing off, and that beard that’s so pretty and it’s got the little snowflake in it," Peavy said. "He makes us better looking, too.”
 
Ross, 36, was a seventh-round pick of the Dodgers in 1998 out of the University of Florida. He made his big-league debut in 2002 with the Dodgers, and has spent time with the Braves, Reds Padres, and Pirates, in addition to an eight-game stint with the Red Sox in 2008. The past four seasons he worked with veteran McCann in Atlanta, and was called up when Paul LoDuca was the Dodgers starter.  Along the way, Ross has tried to take a little from everyone he’s worked with, and pass it on to another catcher.
 
It’s no coincidence that Saltalamacchia has progressed this season, his first working with or even getting acquainted with Ross.
 
“It’s been great,” Saltalamacchia said. “Just his knowledge, his personality, the way he lights situations up. But at the same time he’s serious, which is tough. But it’s just been a great experience, with what he’s been through in his career and different aspects obviously from what I have.
 
“In spring training we worked on my throwing a little bit, how to be quicker because I’ve always been kind of more mechanical with that stuff, trying to do everything right here and not worry about other stuff," Saltalamacchia said. "He kind of simplified it for me, saying, ‘I used to have the same thing, or did this and this is what’s worked for me, and I know when a coach told me to do it the other way, I just realized this is what works best for me.’ So we worked on different stuff like that and different game-calling theories. We’ve been pretty much on the same page with that, which is fun.”
 
For Ross’ teammates, his presence is like having another coach in the clubhouse.
 
“Yeah, for sure,” said right-hander Ryan Dempster. “I think all that experience he has, especially being a catcher, he sees things that a lot of people don’t see, and he passes that along. And I think he’s a big reason we’ve had the success on the pitching staff, and the way he’s helped Salty from the beginning of the year till now, the strides he’s made, whether it’s his game calling or game control or whatever it is. [Ross has] just been incredible and  [Saltalamacchia is] becoming an elite catcher.”
 
Ross missed 65 games this season with two concussions. He had never been diagnosed with a concussion before. The diagnosis and the effects concerned him.
 
“Yeah, and the scariest thing, going back to [former catcher, now Cardinals manager] Mike Matheny who ended his career with a concussion," Ross said. "That’s all I thought: my career’s over. Because you don’t hear about too many baseball players who’ve come back from serious concussions. The doctor said, ‘You’re pretty banged up, you’re going to have to take some time off.’ They didn’t even want me in the city of Boston because they didn’t want me around baseball and that pressure of trying to get back, and watching the games. It was tough.”
 
Ross started the one-game wild card playoff last season for the Braves, who lost to the Cardinals. Farrell said Ross will “absolutely” get some playing time in the postseason this year, too.
 
“For sure,” Farrell said. “David Ross is an outstanding catcher. He’s had a trying year given the amount of time missed with the concussions. But you look back to last year, they’re in a one-game playoff and he started for Atlanta. It’s not like it should be a surprise to anyone that he would get a postseason start.”
 
At the loose intrasquad game at Fenway Park on Wednesday, Ross went out to the mound to talk to Craig Breslow. It’s  something Ross done many times in his career with a pitcher. The difference this time was he made the trek from the dugout, as opposed to from behind the plate.
 
It’s a roll Ross would like in his future – coach or manager. While many players don’t like to talk about their post-playing days while they’re still playing, it’s a scenario Ross has begun to envision. But, with two young children at home, he’s not sure where or when coaching or managing will fit in.
 
“I’m starting to think about it a little more,” Ross said. “I love being around the game.  The one thing about this game is you sacrifice a lot in general, but it’s definitely family time you sacrifice. So I haven’t thought what I want to do. I feel like I have so much knowledge and been blessed beyond belief with being in this game for 11 years now and next year will be 12 that I need to pass that on, I need to give somebody some of this information. I don’t know on what level. I love being around the guys. I love finding a way to win, compete and beat the other team.  I think that’s fun. You know in high school or junior high you have those assignments that are group projects? I always liked the group projects rather than the individual ones. I wanted a collaboration of ideas and then put them together and see if we can create something great.”
 
His teammates don’t doubt it.
 
“David Ross can do anything in baseball when he gets done [playing],” Peavy said. “He can manage, hitting coach, catching coach, any level.  I know he’s looking forward, at some point in time, to spending time with his kids, but Rossie could manage right now. He could manage tonight’s game and we’d be all right.”