Sunday, September 25 is a day that will live in sports infamy. We awoke to the news of the tragic passing of phenom Jose Fernandez and then mourned the loss of a legend when we learned of Arnold Palmer’s death. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the feel-good story of the day was authored by an aging baseball player who’s often referred to as a personal caddy and who walks to the plate amidst the strains of Forever Young.
David Ross had already established a cult following in Chicago, but he cemented his legacy Sunday night with four standing ovations and two curtain calls. Playing in his last regular-season home game, the bit player became a leading man and seemed to radiate the spotlight back onto all those assembled to see the Cubs off. Or maybe that was just the glare from his thinning pate. Either way, Grandpa Rossy was something else.
Though I hadn’t heard of it being part of the planned renovations, the Cubs apparently had Steven Spielberg’s visual effects crew from Jurassic Park run guitar strings beneath all the seats at Wrigley field. I’m not sure how they got enough people in there to pluck them all at once, but the ripple effect was palpable when the graying backstop came to the plate.
With one out in the bottom of the 2nd and the score tied, the apt walk-up music began to play through the PA system and the fans nearest the field rose in a show of appreciation for Ross’s career. Like 40,000 or so blue dominoes set in motion, or some kind of reverse wave that doesn’t suck, the rest of the crowd stood and roared to beat the band. His music lost in the cacophony, Ross lingered a bit before stepping into the box.
Sensing the moment, Yadi Molina took a few steps toward the mound to allow his opponent a few more seconds of adulation. Seeing this, the masses cheered louder, eventually eliciting a doff of the batting helmet from the batter. Even with his back turned, I got the sense from Ross’s posture that he was trying to keep the emotion at bay. You can see him in the video taking an emphatic breath as if to steel himself against the ocean of feels washing over him.
I’m not sure whether the fans at home felt it while reaching toward the television, but Wrigley had become a massive plasma globe with Ross serving as the electrode at its center. Hair stood on end as the current circulated around and through all in the Friendly Confines, even those who’d insulated themselves against it with red garb. And when he flubbed his lines and headed offstage following a strikeout, the applause only increased.
The game was still scoreless when Ross came up again in the 5th, once more to a raucous standing ovation. Yadi Molina again afforded his colleague time to bask in the appreciation of the fans, though you wonder if he’d have done so had he known what was about to happen.
I didn’t so much see the result of Rossy’s swing on Carlos Martinez’s 1-0 curveball as I heard and felt it. First came the unmistakable crrrack of ash on horsehide, followed immediately by the anticipatory clamor from the bleachers that accompanies nearly every ball hit into the air. This time, though, the expectant mirth didn’t go begging. The ball sailed 413 feet as beers spilled and throats were screamed raw from screaming “Ross!”
Then the fans and Ross’s teammates forced a curtain call and the acclamation crescendoed once more. When he came to bat for the final time the following inning, it was with Addison Russell on second and two out. That meant setting up forces all around for Jon Lester with an intentional walk, an unthinkable act in the minds of those who had been hoping for an encore of the home run. Ryan Braun could have stepped into the box and dropped trou and I don’t think they’d boo him as loudly as they did Martinez.
I’d be remiss here if I didn’t recognize Javy Baez for taking an extra long time making his way off the field following his groundout. Knowing Yadi and the Cards had already granted a little leeway twice, the heady utility unicorn was in no hurry to cross the diamond while the old hoss took his warmup cuts. Everyone wanted as many opportunities as possible to laud their laid-back leader, a request Joe Maddon granted in style in the 7th.
With two outs and no one on in the top of the inning, Maddon walked out to the mound for a meeting. Rather than pull his Cy Young-contenting starter as would normally be the case with such a visit, Maddon sent his catcher back to the dugout. In an attempt to hide the emotion of the moment from showing too plainly, Ross put his mask back on as he headed off in the throes of his fourth standing ovation of the night. Then he acquiesced to the cheers once more, performing his second curtain call.
The Cubs went on to win and the old man who’s been the instigator of many an ice water bath in the past got a cold shower of his own while talking to the media on the field after the game. A dried-up Ross talked about his performance and the experience of being lifted early in the interview room and it actually got me a little emotional to hear him talk about it.
Baseball has the magical power to transform us into children again, to open our eyes once more to the wonder and the unadulterated joy all too often leached from our lives by the harshly inexorable onslaught of reality. On Sunday night, I was back on the floor in my Grandpap’s TV room, watching the Cubs without a care outside of that game and maybe another Pepsi. Grandpap’s been gone for a few years now and I traded pop for Green Line, but the emotions were indistinguishable.
While it’d be cool to say that I got to see Rossy’s last home run (I was there for his 100th as well, but this most recent clout was way cooler), I can’t help but thinking this guy’s still got a story or two left. What do you say, Grandpa, can you tell us another?